Everything you need to know about the Super Bowl

NFL players dream of one day winning the Super Bowl – the grand final which pitches the best of the NFC against the top AFC side.

But how do teams get to the top of their respective conference? How does each conference break down into division, and what are the play-offs?

Sky Sports breaks down the basics of the NFL play-offs, starting from the very beginning.

The road to the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is the most-watched, one-day sporting event in the world. It is the annual championship-deciding game in the National Football League (NFL) and sees the America’s top two teams go head-to-head to compete for one of the most prestigious titles in sport. 

What is the NFL?

The NFL is the United States’ premier American Football competition in which 32 teams compete for the championship, which is ultimately decided by the end-of-season Super Bowl in February.

The 32 teams are divided into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC).

The AFC and NFC are then further divided by regions to comprise four divisions with four teams each:

  • AFC North
  • AFC East
  • AFC South
  • AFC West
  • NFC North
  • NFC East
  • NFC South
  • NFC West

The season starts in September and the winner of each Super Bowl traditionally hosts the first game of the following season.

How does the NFL work?

Throughout the year, each team plays the teams in their division home and away, while 10 other predetermined match-ups make up their 16-game schedule.

At the end of the season, the teams with the best record in each of the four divisions per conference, along with the two teams with the next-best records in each conference (the wild card teams), qualify for the play-offs.

This means that a total of 12 teams – six from each conference – progress from the regular season on the road to the Super Bowl.

The teams are seeded based on their records to determine the schedule for the play-offs.

What are the wild card teams in the NFL?

The wild cards are the two teams from each conference that achieved the next-best records after the four outright division winners in both the AFC and the NFC.

Wild cards are not required to be from different divisions within each conference; they are simply determined by the 5th and 6th-best records that were achieved in the regular season.

Matching up against the division winners, the wild cards complete the lineup for the play-offs.

What are the NFL play-offs?

Once the division winners and wild cards have been settled, the NFL play-offs begin. The fixtures are based on seeding from the conference standings and there are four rounds altogether:

Wild card round

The wild card teams are automatically seeded 5th and 6th and must play an additional game in the play-offs.
Split into two games per conference, the wild card games see the 5th seed play the 4th-best team and 6th play the 3rd-best team from the conference’s regular season (the respective division champions).

Divisional round

The top two seeds (the two division champions with the best records) get a bye for the wild card round and automatically progress to the divisional round.

The number-one seed plays the lowest-ranked team left in the conference, which will either be the winner of 5th vs 4th or the 6th seed if they win their Wild Card game against 3rd.

The number-two seed plays 3rd if they win the Wild Card against 6th or the winner of 5th vs 4th.

Conference championship round 

Next up are the games between the two remaining teams in each conference to determine the respective champions of the AFC and the NFC and, therefore, the two teams who will compete in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl

The winners of each conference meet in the biggest game in the NFL on Super Bowl Sunday. Click here to find out more about this years Super Bowl

Reaching the Super Bowl

Any of the 12 teams that progress from the regular season to the play-offs can reach the Super Bowl. The wild cards, however, must play and win more games to get there, which is why winning a regional division stands a team in good stead when play-off season arrives.

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