The NFL playoffs can be unpredictable, especially when it comes to determining matchups.
The league’s revamped postseason system is already unusual given an odd number of teams from each conference make it in. Once the 14-team bracket is formed, there are still a number of ways matchups can change between the wild card round and the divisional round.
Reseeding in the NFL playoffs is intended to benefit the higher seeds, but it also creates some added uncertainty when it comes to those teams figuring out their divisional round opponents.
Here is a breakdown the NFL’s reseeding system for the playoffs:
How are the NFL playoffs seeded?
The team with the top regular season record in its conference gets the No. 1 seed. The next three seeds (Nos. 2-4) are given to the remaining division winners in the conference, and the last three seeds (Nos. 5-7) are given to the three wild card teams – the non-division winners with the best records.
How does reseeding work in the NFL playoffs?
The No. 1 seed hosts the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round. Of the two other teams that make it out of the wild card round in that conference, the higher seed hosts the lower seed in the divisional round. From there, the higher seed would then host the lower seed in the conference championship game.
Because the No. 1 seed does not automatically play the winner of a particular wild card game in the divisional round, that team is sometimes left waiting to learn its opponent. The same can go for certain teams that win early in wild card weekend.
The first NFC wild card game was between the No. 2 San Francisco 49ers and the No. 7 Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. If the Seahawks won, they would have been matched up with Philadelphia for the divisional round since they were the lowest seed in the NFC playoffs. Since the 49ers won, however, either they or the Eagles would learn their opponent the following day.
The No. 3 Minnesota Vikings welcomed the No. 6 New York Giants on Sunday. Since the Vikings were the highest seed of the four teams still looking to advance, they would automatically play the No. 2 49ers in the divisional round with a win. Since the Giants were the lowest seed with a game left, they would automatically play the No. 1 Eagles in the divisional round.
By beating the Vikings, the Giants set up a matchup with the Eagles and left the 49ers with the winner of the No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and No. 5 Dallas Cowboys. Dallas prevailed with a 31-14 win in Tampa Bay and will now face San Francisco this coming Sunday.
Do any other leagues use reseeding in the playoffs?
The NFL is the only major American sports league that reseeds in the playoffs. The NBA and NHL use a traditional bracket system, while teams with byes in the new MLB postseason format play the winner of a given wild card series instead of the highest or lowest remaining seed.