How many wild card teams are in the NFL playoffs?

  • The NFL playoff format changed in 2020
  • More teams now have a chance to make the tournament
Steelers, NFL playoffs
Steelers, NFL playoffs / Courtney Culbreath/GettyImages

Football is a sport that predates any of us, and it has been played professionally in the United States for over 100 years. Throughout the ages, much of the game has stayed the same, while other rule and schedule changes show that it is rapidly growing in many ways.

Most would agree that NFL playoffs are one of the most exciting times in sports. Kicking off the post-season action is the Wild Card round. This is where we can often see some of the biggest upsets occur as teams who barely made the tournament will be playing on the road against a team with a higher seed.

The Wild Card round has included some thrilling performances in recent years, and every once in a while, a Wild Card team ends up making the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers should certainly be thankful that Wild Card teams enter the playoffs.

How many Wild Card teams make the NFL playoffs?

This brings us to the question: how many Wild Card teams ultimately make the playoff each year? Just a few years ago, the answer would have been four -- two teams from each conference. However, thanks to a recent change in 2020, there are now a total of six teams that enter the post-season in the Wild Card slots (three from the AFC and three from the NFC).

It used to be that six total teams from each conference make the playoffs and the top two seeds would have a first-round bye. That isn't the case anymore. Now seven teams make it from each conference and only the number one seed gets a bye to start the tournament.

This means that, during the Wild Card round, the No. 2 seed plays the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed plays the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed plays the No. 5 seed. The winners from these games enter the Divisional Round of the playoffs as the loser is sent packing.

The new NFL playoff format gives us two more games to watch on Wild Card weekend, and of that, fans can certainly be thankful for. It also allows a quality team that would have otherwise narrowly missed the mark to enter the post-season.

The biggest issue with this format is that only one team from each conference now earns a bye week, so finishing as the top seed in either the AFC or NFC is even more important now. It might not have been a coincidence that both teams who earned the bye last year (the Chiefs and the Eagles) made it to the Super Bowl.

Either way, NFL teams are adjusting to the new format and many of them can be grateful for one additional spot to potentially make the tournament. The six Wild Card teams each year make for some exciting scenarios, and we are all anxious to see which team will be next to climb the playoff ladder from a Wild Card spot to become Super Bowl champions.

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