NFL New Playoff Format Explained: Number of Teams, Seeding Changes and Updated Schedule

The NFL will feature a new playoffs format from next season after the 32 franchises approved the first postseason expansion in three decades.

First proposed in the new collective bargaining agreement that was ratified by both teams and the NFL Players Association, the revamped playoff format will feature 14 teams as opposed to the 12 that have qualified for the postseason each year since the league last altered its playoff format in 1990.

The changes mean the wild-card weekend will feature an additional two games, while only the top seed in each conference will have the luxury of a bye in the second round.

Here's all you need to know about the brand new NFL postseason.

What has changed in the NFL playoffs?

The playoff system the 32 franchise owners agreed upon will feature 14 teams, as opposed to the 12 that made the postseason from 1990 up until last season. That means an extra team from both the NFC and the AFC will be allowed in the playoffs with a total of seven teams per conference qualifying for the postseason. As has been the case since the NFL last altered the playoff format, the four division winners in the two conferences will get the top four seeds, irrespective of their regular-season record.

The number of wild card spots reserved for the teams with the best overall record of all the remaining teams in the conference will increase from the current two to three in both conferences, with those teams receiving the No. 5, 6 and 7 seeds.

Crucially, however, while so far the top two seeds in each conference sat out the first round of the playoffs, from the 2020 season the luxury will only be afforded to the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

In practical terms, had the new playoff system been in use last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have made the AFC playoffs as the seventh seed, while the Los Angels Rams would have squeezed into the postseason in the NFC. The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers would have retained their first-round byes, but the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers, who finished with the No. 2 in their respective conferences, would have been in action on wild-card weekend.

When will the NFL playoffs expand?

The new format will be in place for the 2020 season, which remains set to get underway on September 10. Whether the date will have to be changed because of the coronavirus outbreak remains to be seen. The 17-game regular season, meanwhile, can only be implemented to the 2021 season at the earliest.

How will the new NFL playoffs work?

The addition of two teams in the NFL playoffs means wild-card weekend will be a much bigger affair from next season. With only one team guaranteed a first-round bye, the other six franchises will all feature in the opening weekend of the postseason, with six games on the schedule instead of four.

The revamped wild-card round will see the No.2 seed in both conferences host the No.7 seed, with the No.3 seed welcoming the No. 6 seed and the No.4 seed playing the No.5 seed at home. This season, wild-card weekend will consist of three games played on Saturday, January 9, 2021 and three games on Sunday, January 10, 2021.

As it was the case under the old playoff system, the No. 1 seed in both conferences will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Will the broadcast schedule change?

An expanded playoff format means more games to broadcast and NBC and CBS will split the two extra games on wild-card weekend. In a press release circulated on Tuesday night, the NFL said the former will broadcast an additional wild card game on January 10 at 8:15 p.m. ET, with CBS broadcasting an additional wild card game at 4:40 p.m. ET on the same day.

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A general view of the NFL Wild Card logo prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on January 5 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mitchell Leff/Getty