How many teams make the NFL playoffs?

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

The current format of teams making the NFL playoffs is actually quite new.

The only reason the regular season exists is to set the tone for January football.

Playing into January means a team was good enough during the regular season to make it into the postseason (or at least lucky enough to be the least-worst team in a bad division... we see you, 2010 Seattle Seahawks with a 7-9 record).

There are 32 teams in the NFL, currently. Nearly half of them end up making the postseason, yet some have distinct advantages over the other based on seeding, records etc.

So, while the NFL expert might already know the answer, the new fans and even some longtime football supporters (including San Francisco 49ers fans) may actually stop and ask, "How many teams actually make the NFL playoffs?"

Don't worry. We're here to help.

14 teams ultimately make the NFL playoffs each postseason

The current format of 14 teams making the postseason is actually relatively new.

Back in 2020, the league adopted a 14-team playoff format, which was up from the previous 12-team bunch that had been the norm since 1990. Six teams per conference would make the postseason -- four division winners and two Wild Card teams under the old system.

Read More: 30 greatest 49ers players in franchise history

Now, two more Wild Card teams have been added, one in each conference, meaning that seven teams from the AFC and seven other teams from the NFC will make the NFL playoffs.

How does the NFL playoff seeding work?

With 14 teams making the postseason, seven in each conference, seeding is based on a No. 1 through No. 7 basis with the top four teams being division winners and the bottom three as Wild Card teams:

  • No. 1 seed (division winner; first-round bye)
  • No. 2 seed (division winner)
  • No. 3 seed (division winner)
  • No. 4 seed (division winner)
  • No. 5 seed (Wild Card team)
  • No. 6 seed (Wild Card team)
  • No. 7 seed (Wild Card team)

Prior to 2020, the first two seeds would receive a first-round bye during the Wild Card round, which is the opening week of the playoffs.

Now, only the No. 1 seed received the bye. The No. 2 seed hosts the No. 7 seed, while the No. 3 seed hosts the No. 6 seed. The No. 4 seed hosts the No. 5 seed, all of these games taking place on Wild Card weekend.

Then, in the divisional round the following week, the No. 1 seed, which automatically advanced, hosts the lowest-seeded team that won on Wild Card weekend. Then, the next-highest seed hosts the remaining team.

The winners of those two divisional round games play each other in the NFC or AFC Championship game for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

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