What is the Wildcard round in NFL 
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The wildcard round is the first stage of the postseason of the NFL. 14 teams from 8 divisions qualify for the playoffs and compete in the wildcard round. A team gets only one elimination match to reach the next stage of the divisional round.

There are eight divisions and 32 teams in the NFL. Only 14 get to play in the Playoffs. That is less than 2 per division. So, how do the teams get selected, and what is the format of the game? Let’s find it out in this article.

How Do Teams Reach the Wildcard Round?

The regular season is divided into 2 conferences- AFC and NFC. Each conference has four divisions. The winner of each division directly qualifies for the Playoffs. So, this way, you get 8 winners in 8 divisions and 8 entrants in the wildcard round.

The other 6 teams are the wild card entries. There are several calculations based on which the teams are selected. The basic criteria are to select the best teams who did not win their divisions. Do you want to simplify thinking from each division that the second team gets to play?

Well, that is not the case, though. It would have made 16 entries in the playoffs. Three teams from each conference get to play as wild card entrants. So, the three teams who did not win the division in each conference, but have the best win-loss records, are selected for the playoffs. It can be two teams from the same division.

The selection of a team as a wildcard entrant is influenced by several factors, including the following:

  • Teams with the highest winning percentages usually have a better chance of securing a wildcard berth.
  • The strength of the schedule is taken into consideration too. A team that has faced tougher opponents and performed well may have an advantage over a team with a weaker schedule.
  • If two or more teams have the same regular season record, tiebreakers are used to determine the wild card entrants. The team that has a better head-to-head record gets the advantage.
  • Teams with the best records within their conference are given priority.

Based on these criteria, a team that finished second in its division may not get chosen as the strength of the schedule is also taken into account. 

Format of the Wild Card Round

The wild card round in the NFL maintains the following format:

  • The wildcard round usually takes place on the first weekend of the NFL playoffs, following the conclusion of the regular season.
  • 14 teams are selected from eight 8 divisions. It includes the 8 division winners and 3 wild card entries from each conference.
  • Teams are seeded depending on their performance in the regular season. The team with the best record among the wild cards plays against the division winner with the lowest seed. The other two wild card entries get to compete with winners with higher seeds.
  • The division winners with the higher seeds host the games in the wildcard round. It means the highest-seeded wild card team has a road game against the lowest-seeded division winner. The other two wild card teams are not so lucky. They will have to play on the road.
  • It is a single-elimination format. The winners of the wildcard games move on to the next round, while the losing teams are eliminated from the playoffs.

Why Are There Wild Card Teams?

Just like you, many fans also wonder the same, as long as their team is the division winner. The reason for adding the wild card teams is to make the postseason more competitive. It also makes each game important in the regular season, even if a team has no chance of becoming the top team in its division.

The inclusion of wildcard teams also makes the tournament more unpredictable; fans also often get to see a shocker. Overall, the wild card round made the tournament highly competitive and enjoyable.

Wildcard Round Records in the NFL

Most Wild Card AppearancesDallas Cowboys (19)
Biggest Wild Card WinBaltimore Ravens defeated New York Giants (34-7) in Super Bowl XXXV
Biggest Wild Card UpsetPhiladelphia Eagles defeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII
First Wild Card Team EverKansas City Chiefs (in 1970)
Most Super Bowl Wins as Wild CardPittsburgh Steelers (2)

Kansas City became the first wildcard team in the playoffs in 1970. Several teams even won the Super Bowl as a wildcard team. This is how the wildcard makes the tournament more competitive and unpredictable.

The Cleveland Browns could not qualify for the playoffs since 2002. Finally, they made the playoffs in 2020 as a wildcard card. It ended their 18-year playoff drought.


How many teams compete in the Wildcard round in the NFL?

In the wildcard round14 teams compete, which is the first phase of the playoff. The 8 division-winning teams qualify directly, while the other six participate as wildcard teams.

How does a team qualify as a wildcard team?

A team is required to have the best win-loss record in the regular season among the other teams that did not qualify. The top three non-division winner teams from the four divisions are elected as the wildcard teams.


The wildcard round is a major feature of the NFL that makes it so exciting and unpredictable. It gives the teams hope to give their best till the last match. Several teams even have won the Super Bowl being a wildcard team. Hopefully, you have got a detailed idea regarding what the wildcard round is in the NFL.

Read More: The 10 Best Players to Never Win a Super Bowl

Golam Muktadir is a passionate sports fan and a dedicated movie buff. He has been writing about both topics for over a decade and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with his readers. Muktadir has a degree in journalism and has written for several well-known publications, including Surprise Sports.