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The student news site of ADM High School

Black & (Red)gister

The student news site of ADM High School

Black & (Red)gister

The History of the NFL Playoffs

Fans excitedly fill the stands to watch players warm up as the game gets closer to starting. By the first whistle, the statdium will be virtually full with fans rooting for their favorite team.

Making it to the playoffs is something all football teams fight for and all football fans dream of. Making it to the playoffs not only gives the qualifying teams a chance to keep playing more games but also allows them to fight for the NFL’s most prized possession, a chance to host the Lombardi Trophy after being crowned Super Bowl champions. But what are the playoffs? How does a team earn a spot in them? What is the post-season road to being named the champion? Many football fans around the country may think they know all there is to know about the playoffs and their history, but it may be more complicated than you think.

At the start of the NFL, in 1920, there was no such thing as a post-season, no playoffs to make it to, and no Super Bowl Sunday for teams and fans to enjoy. At the end of each regular season, the team with the best record would be named the winner for that year. If there was a tie, there would be a singular game played against the two teams, and that would be that for the football season. This was back before football was the most popular sport in America, so there was no need to have any extra games. This system of crowning a champion stayed in place for over a decade until, in 1933, the NFL made a change to the format of the teams. For the 1933 season, the teams in the NFL were split into two divisions. Two smaller leagues were created, and whoever had the best record in each division would play each other, similar to how two teams would play if there was a tie for the best record. This essentially added one extra game to the season for the two best teams in the league, but there was still no month-long playoff season that we see today. This system stayed in place for over three decades, but when the two main football leagues, the NFL and AFL, came together to form a conjoined league, there was a need to change the post-season system. The number of teams competing for the Super Bowl changed from 16 to 26 when the two leagues formed together, so there was a decision to make a bigger playoff. From the late 1960s till the late 1980s, the playoffs changed four times.

As more teams joined, the two conferences (National Football Conference and American Football Conference) got split farther down. In each conference, the teams were split into four divisions, forming a total of eight smaller groups of teams inside the league. The number of teams in the playoffs increased to 12 at the end of the 1980s and had six teams from each conference. Four of the spots for each conference were filled by the team with the best record in each division. The other two spots, called wildcard spots, were filled by the two next-best teams in the conference that weren’t divisional leaders. Once the 12 teams were decided, the playoffs would start. The top two teams in each conference, or the two divisional leaders with the best records, got a bye in the first round while the other two division leaders played the two wildcard teams. The eight remaining teams would then play games until there was one team left in each conference, that played in the Super Bowl. This 12-team playoff would hold for a while, but in 2020, the decision was made to increase the amount of teams once again. The playoffs were changed to hold 14 teams instead of 12, but the system of who got in stayed the same. The teams with the best record in each division still take the first four of the seven spots in each conference, but now the next three best teams in the conference would get in instead of two getting in with the 12-team playoff. The other change that was made was, to have an even amount of teams playing, only the team with the best record in each conference got a bye, rather than the top two teams. Over the century of professional football, the playoffs have changed a lot. From not existing at all to being the most popular part of the NFL, there have had to be changes made as the sport advanced, grew, and evolved. Whether or not you understand how the playoffs work, it’s undeniable the joy it brings for those who watch them, and at the end of the day, is that not what the playoffs and the game of football are meant to do?

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