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NFL Wild Card explained

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If you’re a new fan of the NFL and need the NFL Wild Card explained, don’t fear because we’ve got you covered.

The schedule of NFL Wildcard weekend is a little different in 2022 with six games spread out across three days, including a Monday night game. That’s because the Wild Card format in the NFL recently underwent a change. 

NFL Wild Card explained

However, most of those changes to the Wild Card have been for the better, allowing for more teams to get into the playoffs and for more games to be played.

Plus, the best Wild Card games sometimes end up being the best games we see during the entire playoffs, which is what makes this one of the most exciting weekends of the season. If you still have questions and need the NFL Wild Card explained, we’ve got answers. 

How does the NFL Wild Card work?

The Wild Card in the NFL is not as complicated as you might think, although figuring out the Wild Card teams can be a little complicated. Following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the NFL introduced the Wild Card, allowing for one team from each conference that didn’t win its division to make the playoffs. The league would later add a second Wild Card team from each conference before adding a third Wild Card team from each conference in 2020. 


In short, the three teams with the best record in each conference outside of the teams that won their division are given the Wild Card spots. This can get a little complicated if teams have the same record and need tiebreakers to decide the final one or two spots. But the Wild Card provides the opportunity for non-division-winners to participate in the playoffs. 

Now that there are three Wild Card teams and four division winners in each conference, the team with the best record in each conference gets a bye during the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. This means that each Wild Card team faces a division winner in the first round of the playoffs. This rewards teams that won their division by giving them at least one home playoff game while also giving Wild Card teams a chance.

Does the Wildcard count as the Playoffs?

Absolutely it does!

Nowadays, it’s hard to envision the NFL playoffs without the Wildcard Round.

The Wild Card Round serves as the first round of the NFL playoffs because it’s the only round in which Wild Card teams are guaranteed to participate. In theory, home teams have a distinct advantage in the playoffs, which means that all of the Wild Card teams would be eliminated if teams are able to hold serve at home. But that’s not always how it works, as there are many Wild Card teams that have made deep playoff runs and won the Super Bowl.


Read more: NFL Postseason explained

Why does the Wildcard exist?

The easy answer is that the Wild Card exists because it makes the NFL playoffs fun and exciting.

Just because a team doesn’t win its division doesn’t mean that it’s not a good team and doesn’t deserve a chance to play its way to the Super Bowl. Having Wild Card teams in the playoffs adds extra competition to the NFL playoffs and makes it more challenging for teams to get to the Super Bowl.

Of course, when it was first created in 1970, the Wild Card in the NFL was mostly to create balance. With three divisions and three division winners going to the playoffs, the NFL needed a fourth team in the playoffs to even out the numbers in each conference. However, the NFL now has four divisions in each conference but continues to use the Wildcard because more teams in the playoffs means more playoff games.

For the league, more playoff games mean more money, but for fans, more playoff games just means more entertainment, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

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