NFL playoff bracket, explained: How byes, seeding, format will work in 2024

The NFL once was a league where only 12 teams made the postseason. But since 2020, the playoff field has expanded, and that has brought on more excitement for NFL fan bases.

Fourteen NFL teams now make the playoffs, and that has provided a boost to the NFL’s postseason race. More teams remain in the wild-card race longer, and that has given some credence to the league’s decision to switch from a 17-week season to an 18-week campaign.

Indeed, these changes certainly appear to have been for the better, but they aren’t yet familiar to all. Some NFL fans are still getting used to seeing a No. 7 seed in the postseason while others aren’t quite up to date on how the NFL’s new-look bracket works.

Here’s everything to know about the NFL’s postseason format as the 2023 regular season winds down.

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How many teams make the NFL playoffs?

For the fourth consecutive season, a total of 14 teams will make the NFL playoffs. Only 12 teams — six from each conference — made the playoffs under the NFL’s previous postseason model, which was replaced ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

Now, a total of seven teams from both the AFC and NFC make the playoffs. The NFL was able to make this change by adding a seventh seed in each conference and eliminated the bye week that used to exist for the No. 2 seed.

The NFL’s new format ensures that 43.75 percent of the league’s teams are involved in postseason play. Division winners are still seeded Nos. 1-4 based on their records while the final three spots are filled by wild-card squads from each conference.

NFL playoff bracket 2024

The 2023 NFL playoff bracket will work identically to the league’s approach to it over the last two seasons. The No. 1 seed in each conference will begin the tournament with a bye while the No. 2 seed plays No. 7, No. 3 plays No. 6 and No. 4 plays No. 5 on each side.

Here’s a look at the latest NFL playoff bracket for 2023 heading into Week 17:


1. Baltimore Ravens (BYE)
2. Miami Dolphins vs. 7. Indianapolis Colts
3. Kansas City Chiefs vs. 6. Buffalo Bills
4. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. 5. Cleveland Browns


1. San Francisco 49ers (BYE)
2. Philadelphia Eagles vs. 7. Seattle Seahawks
3. Detroit Lions vs. 6. Los Angeles Rams
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. 5. Dallas Cowboys

How many teams get a first-round bye?

Only one team in each conference gets a bye week under the NFL’s new playoff format. That means that two total teams will be on bye to start the postseason compared to the four that used to be off under the league’s previous model.

The elimination of the second bye was necessary, as making the No. 2 seed play ensures that half of the 12 teams that play of Wild Card weekend will be eliminated. That will leave eight playing in the divisional round, a number that the NFL can continue to halve until one is left standing after the Super Bowl.

Why did the NFL expand the playoff field?

Almost all decisions made by major American sports leagues are about the money. The extra playoff game helps to generate revenue that the NFL otherwise wouldn’t receive from the No. 2 seed sitting out a week. It also allows the league to schedule an extra prime-time broadcast, as the league’s “Super Wild Card weekend” now contains within it a “Monday Night Football” postseason game.

The playoff expansion also keeps more teams in the playoff hunt longer during the 18-week season. That makes each game a bit more meaningful and gives the fan bases of middling teams more of a chance to make a late playoff push.

Given that 24 of the NFL’s 32 teams still had a path to the postseason in Week 17 of the 2023 NFL season, the league’s postseason expansion seems to be having the desired effect. 

Does the No. 2 seed have any benefit without a bye?

The No. 2 seed isn’t nearly as attractive as it once was without the bye attached to it. Sure, the No. 2 seed doesn’t have to go on the road until the AFC championship game — and it only has to do it then if the No. 1 seed is still playing — but having to play an extra game outweighs that potential benefit.

That’s part of the reason that teams have put far less emphasis on earning the No. 2 seed than they have in recent seasons. They will fight as long as they remain in the hunt for the No. 1 seed, but so long as they have at least one home playoff game, many teams are happy to rest their starters in Week 18 to make sure they are at full strength for the postseason.

Still, it’s worth noting that the No. 2 seeds are 6-0 against No. 7 seeds since the NFL made the change to a 14-team playoff in 2020. So, it does appear that there is an advantage in facing the weakest of the wild-card teams.

Does the NFL’s 17th game have an impact on the playoffs?

Not really. The main difference is that the NFL postseason starts a week later than it used to and that the Super Bowl is the second Sunday in February. The NFL’s playoff race also lasts a bit longer because of the extra week and the postseason expansion.

Still, aside from that, the 17th game doesn’t do much to impact the postseason. Once it begins, it will be the same one-and-done elimination football that fans are accustomed to seeing.

NFL playoff schedule 2024

Wild-card round

Saturday, Jan. 13

Matchup Start time (ET) TV channel Live stream
TBD Wild card 4:30 p.m. NBC Peacock, Fubo
TBD Wild card 8 p.m. Peacock Peacock

Sunday, Jan. 14

Matchup Start time (ET) TV channel Live stream
TBD Wild card 1 p.m. CBS or Fox Fubo
TBD Wild card 4:30 p.m. CBS Paramount+, Fubo
TBD Wild card 8:15 p.m. NBC Peacock, Fubo

Monday, Jan. 15

Matchup Start time (ET) TV channel Live stream
TBD Wild card 8:15 p.m. ESPN, ABC ESPN+, Fubo

More NFL playoff schedule information will be provided as it becomes available.

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