NFL Playoff Format 2014: Explaining Wild-Card Scenarios and Tiebreakers

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IDecember 29, 2013

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 29:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks looks on during the game against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field on December 29, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Rams 27-9.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The NFL postseason picture is complete. 

With so many teams still having something significant to play for on the final Sunday of the regular season—heck, even the Kansas City Chiefs, the only team that didn't, still put up a fight with 20 starters sittingfans were treated to a wild Week 17.

Thankfully, though, for those of us whose brains were starting to hurt, the endless hypothetical scenarios can come to an end (well, almost come to an end thanks to playoff reseeding), and the muddy postseason picture is now crystal clear. 

Let's take a look at where each team is left standing, along with an explanation of the seeding and format. 


Playoff Seedings


NFC Somehow Avoids All Tiebreakers

Amazingly enough in the conference that had very little decided going into the final week, it was wrapped up into a tight, neat, little package.

The four division champs (Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers) all had a different winning percentage, so ordering them No. 1 through No. 4 was easy as pie. 

Same goes for the wild-card spots, as the San Francisco 49ers (12-4) earned the No. 5 spot over the New Orleans Saints (11-5). Both edged the Arizona Cardinals, who finished 10-6. 

Interestingly enough, the Niners would have secured a meeting with the NFC East winner—a matchup most believe is more favorable than the Packers at Lambeau—if they lost to the Cards on Sunday, but wide receiver Anquan Boldin put it simply:


Cincinnati Wins Tiebreaker Over Indianapolis in AFC

Determining the No. 1 and 2 seeds in the AFC was similarly simple, as the Denver Broncos (13-3) and New England Patriots (12-4) finished with more wins than everyone else and were easily separated by their records. 

The other two division winners, the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts, both had 11 wins, however, and had to go through a tiebreaker, which came down to head-to-head record.

Thanks to a 42-28 win over the Colts in Week 14, the Bengals earned the No. 3 seed. That's key, as they were able to avoid the dangerous Kansas City Chiefs, who also finished with 11 wins but dropped to the No. 5 seed because they were a wild-card team. 

San Diego rounded out the AFC playoff picture by going 9-7. If they would have lost to the Chiefs in Week 17, they would have fallen into five-way tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. 

In that scenario, the Steelers would have advanced, but that's a "moo point" now.

All in all, after the playoff picture was muddied throughout the entire season, everything turned out quite straight-forward.