NFL Playoff Guide: How to watch the games, bracket format and betting favorites

The Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys are riding high after big Week 18 wins capped their regular seasons. The Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles are reeling after stumbling down the stretch.

With or without momentum, the NFL playoffs begin for 12 of the 14 postseason qualifiers during wild-card weekend. Games begin Saturday, when the Texans host the Browns and the Chiefs host the Dolphins.

The No. 1 seeds — including the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens and NFC’s San Francisco 49ers — get a bye until next week’s division round.

Of this weekend’s six wild-card games, a pair have particularly juicy storylines.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was 0-3 in the playoffs with the Lions, goes back to Detroit as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions tied a franchise record with a 12-win regular season and will seek their first playoff victory since beating Dallas on Jan. 5, 1992.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy will face his former team when Jordan Love leads the Packers to Dallas on Sunday. The Cowboys routed Washington 38-10 to clinch the NFC East title and will host Green Bay aiming to stay unbeaten at home this season.

Six teams — the Browns, Lions, Packers, Texans, Rams and Steelers — are in the playoffs after missing out last season. At least four teams who failed to qualify one season have reached the playoffs the next every year since 1990.



No. 5 Browns at No. 4 Texans, 4:30 p.m. EST, NBC

No. 6 Dolphins at No. 3 Chiefs 8 p.m. EST, Peacock

(The Dolphins-Chiefs game will be the first NFL playoff game to be exclusively streamed on Peacock, an NBC subscription service. Fans in the markets of Kansas City and Miami will still be able to watch for free on their local NBC affiliates.)


No. 7 Steelers at No. 2 Bills, 1 p.m. EST, CBS/Paramount+

No. 7 Packers at No. 2 Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. EST, Fox

No. 6 Rams at No. 3 Lions, 8 p.m. EST, NBC


No. 5 Eagles at No. 4 Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN


This is the fourth season of the current NFL playoff format. The field was expanded to 14 teams in 2020 when the league added a third wild-card qualifier from both the AFC and NFC.

Wild-card weekend: Jan. 12-14

Divisional round: Jan. 20-21

Conference championships: Jan. 28

Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium: Feb. 11.

The four division winners in each conference automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that didn’t win their division are the wild-card selections. That’s why it’s fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better record — but worse playoff seeding — than a team that finished as a division winner.

The No. 1-seeded team in each conference gets a bye into the second round while No. 2 hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 during wild-card weekend.

The NFL has a re-seeding policy after each playoff round. That means that no matter how the bracket started, the lowest-seeded team will always travel to the higher-seeded team in the AFC and NFC.


Oddsmakers are expecting some good games during the opening round.

There are two road favorites during wild-card weekend, according to FanDuel Sportsbook: The Browns are a 2 1/2-point favorite over rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Texans while the Eagles are also a 2 1/2-point favorite against the Buccaneers.

Not every game is expected to be tight. The Cowboys are 7 1/2-point favorites over the Packers while the Bills have a 10-point advantage over the Steelers.

As for the Super Bowl winner, the oddsmakers like the top seeds. The 49ers are +230 to win it all while the Ravens are at +350.

Feel like betting on a longshot? The Steelers (+13000) and Packers (+10000) would bring the biggest returns if they win it all.

And — as always — there are the prop bets. Among them, a wild-card weekend touchdown on the opening kickoff nets a +5000 payday.


AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.



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