How exactly do the NFL playoffs work? What I'm really trying to figure out is the Houston Texans' schedule. They won today so they'll play the wildcard on Jan. 5th, right? Do they have to win that to play on the 20th or do they automatically play on the 20th regardless?
The National Football League is divided into two conferences-the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC).
Each conference has four divisions of four teams each.
Towards the end of the regular season, one team will win its division (as Houston won the AFC South today), plus each conference sends two wildcard teams, for a total of six teams from each conference, or twelve altogether.
The six teams in each conference are ranked 1-4 (the division winners) and 5-6 (wildcards), according to their win-loss-tie records. Since each of the four teams per division play one another twice (home and in the opposing stadium), this is why divisional records (called "tiebreakers) are so important.
In the first week of playoffs, the #3 division winner hosts #6 wildcard team, and #4 division winner hosts #5 seed. #1 and #2 get a "bye" week (which is why Houston wants to win out so badly and get a high seed, plus "home field". I think we have to wait two more weeks to find out when and who they play). So, after that week you have two teams surviving.
In the second week, #1 seed hosts the lowest surviving seed (4, 5, or 6). #2 seed hosts the other team (3, 4 or 5). Thus, the survivors of this week meet in the respective championship games, with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.