NFL Wild Card Teams: Learn Their Strategies and Basics

John Rizzo

NFL Wild Card Teams

In the thrilling world of American football, the NFL Wild Card teams have carved out their own unique legacy. 

These teams bring an element of unpredictability and drama to the postseason that keeps fans on the edge of their seats. But what exactly are NFL Wild Card teams, and why are they such a fascinating part of the league’s playoff picture?

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the captivating world of NFL Wild Card teams. We’ll start by explaining what these teams are and how they earn their coveted playoff spots. 

We’ll also discuss the characteristics that make them successful, their playoff strategies, and even their chances of winning the ultimate prize the Super Bowl.

From memorable underdog stories to nail-biting playoff battles, the journey of Wild Card teams is filled with drama, determination, and the quest for football glory. 

Join us as we explore the captivating road that these teams travel on their way to postseason greatness. Stay sharp. 

What Are the NFL Wild Card Teams?

The NFL Wild Card teams are the non-division champions from each conference (AFC and NFC) that qualify for the postseason playoffs. 

In each conference, there are four divisions, and the team with the best record in each division earns an automatic playoff berth. 

The Wild Card teams are the next best teams in terms of regular-season records that didn’t win their respective divisions.

In total, there are three Wild Card teams from each conference, making for a total of six Wild Card teams in the NFL playoffs. These teams compete in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, facing off against the division champions with the lower seeds. 

If a Wild Card team wins in the Wild Card round, they advance to the Divisional round, and the playoffs continue from there, culminating in the Super Bowl.

The Wild Card round adds an element of excitement to the NFL playoffs, as these teams often bring an extra level of unpredictability and can sometimes upset higher-seeded opponents.

How Many NFL Wild Card Teams Are There?

NFL Wild Card Teams Are There

Here we have tried to explain the number of NFL Wild Card teams:

Conference Structure

The NFL is divided into two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC), each consisting of 16 teams. 

Within each conference, there are four divisions, making for a total of 8 divisions in the entire league.

Division Winners

At the end of the regular season, the team with the best record in each of the 8 divisions is declared the division winner. 

These division champions earn automatic berths in the NFL playoffs, and they are seeded based on their regular-season records.

Wild Card Teams

In addition to the division champions, there are three Wild Card teams from each conference. 

These Wild Card teams are the non-division winners with the best records. They are essentially the teams that had strong regular-season performances but didn’t win their divisions.

Six Wild Card Teams Total

With three Wild Card teams in both the AFC and NFC, there are a total of six Wild Card teams in the NFL playoffs. 

These teams are chosen based on their regular-season performance and provide an opportunity for more teams to compete in the postseason.

Wild Card Round

The Wild Card teams face off against the division champions with the lower seeds in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. 

This round typically takes place on the first weekend of the NFL postseason and sets the stage for the Divisional round.

Path to the Super Bowl

If a Wild Card team wins its game in the Wild Card round, it advances to the Divisional round, where they face tougher competition. 

The ultimate goal for all NFL teams, including Wild Card teams, is to make it to the Super Bowl and compete for the championship title.

Characteristics of Successful Wild Card Teams

Successful Wild Card Teams

Successful Wild Card teams in the NFL possess several key characteristics that enable them to compete at a high level in the postseason. Here are some significant points highlighting these traits:

Strong Late-Season Performance

Successful Wild Card teams often finish the regular season with a strong winning streak, showing that they are peaking at the right time and have momentum heading into the playoffs.


These teams have demonstrated the ability to bounce back from adversity, whether it’s overcoming injuries, close losses, or challenging circumstances during the season.

Balanced Offense and Defense

Effective Wild Card teams typically have a well-balanced roster with a potent offense and a solid defense. This balance allows them to adapt to different opponents and game situations.

Experienced Leadership

Experienced coaches and veteran players can provide invaluable leadership during high-pressure playoff games. They understand the nuances of postseason football and can keep the team focused and composed.


Successful Wild Card teams often have playmakers who can change the course of a game with a big play. This includes dynamic quarterbacks, game-breaking wide receivers, and disruptive defenders.


The ability to adjust game plans and strategies to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses or counter their strengths is crucial in the playoffs. Wild Card teams that can adapt effectively tend to go far.

Mental Toughness

Playoff football can be mentally challenging, with intense scrutiny and high stakes. Successful Wild Card teams exhibit mental toughness, staying poised under pressure and not succumbing to nerves.

The Road to the Playoffs for the Wild Card Teams

The Road to the Playoffs for the Wild Card Teams

The road to the playoffs for Wild Card teams in the NFL is a challenging and exciting journey that begins with their performance in the regular season and continues through the postseason. Here’s a step-by-step overview:

Regular Season Performance

Wild Card teams earn their playoff spot by having one of the best records among non-division-winning teams in their respective conferences. A strong regular-season performance is crucial for Wild Card contention.

Wild Card Round

Once the regular season concludes, Wild Card teams enter the playoffs as lower-seeded teams. 

In the Wild Card round, they face off against the division champions with lower seeds in a win-or-go-home game. This round typically takes place on the first weekend of the postseason.

Divisional Round

If a Wild Card team wins its game in the Wild Card round, it advances to the Divisional round. Here, they face the top-seeded division champions. 

This round further narrows down the competition, and the winners move on to the Conference Championship games.

Conference Championship

The winners of the Divisional round games represent their conferences in the Conference Championship games. These games determine the AFC and NFC champions, who will compete in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl

The ultimate goal for any Wild Card team, like any other NFL team, is to reach the Super Bowl and compete for the championship title. 

The team that emerges victorious in the Super Bowl is crowned the NFL champion for that season.

Throughout this road to the playoffs, Wild Card teams must demonstrate their abilities to adapt, perform under pressure, and overcome formidable opponents.

Wild Card Teams’ Playoff Strategies

Wild Card Teams' Playoff Strategies

Wild Card teams in the NFL playoffs often employ specific strategies to increase their chances of success in postseason play. 

These strategies revolve around adapting to the heightened competition and maximizing their strengths. Here are some key playoff strategies for Wild Card teams:

Aggressive Playcalling

Wild Card teams may adopt a more aggressive style of playcalling, taking calculated risks like deep passes, trick plays, or going for it on fourth downs to keep the pressure on their opponents and potentially create game-changing moments.

Focus on Defense

Strong defensive play is crucial in the playoffs. Wild Card teams often emphasize solid defensive schemes, pass rush, and turnovers to disrupt the rhythm of opposing offenses and create opportunities for their own team.

Exploiting Matchups

Coaches analyze their opponents’ weaknesses and matchups carefully. Wild Card teams seek to exploit favorable matchups, whether it’s a receiver against a vulnerable cornerback or a defensive lineman against a suspect offensive line.

Time of Possession

Controlling the clock can be a valuable strategy, as it limits the number of possessions for the opposing team’s offense. This can be achieved through a balanced running game and short, high-percentage passes that move the chains.

Minimizing Mistakes

Playoff games are often decided by turnovers and penalties. Wild Card teams focus on disciplined play, minimizing turnovers, and avoiding costly penalties that can swing the momentum.

Special Teams Excellence

Field position can be critical in close playoff contests. Wild Card teams emphasize strong special teams play, including reliable kicking, effective return units, and coverage teams that prevent long returns.

Emotional Resilience

The mental aspect of playoff football is significant. Wild Card teams need to maintain emotional resilience, staying focused and composed, especially when facing adverse situations or hostile crowds on the road.


Playoff games can be unpredictable, so Wild Card teams must be ready to adjust their strategies on the fly. Coaches and players need to adapt to changing circumstances and exploit new opportunities as they arise.

Underdog Mentality

Many Wild Card teams embrace the “underdog” label and use it as motivation. They play with a chip on their shoulder, believing in their ability to upset higher-seeded opponents.

These strategies, when executed effectively, can give Wild Card teams a competitive edge and potentially lead to deep playoff runs, showcasing the unpredictable and thrilling nature of postseason NFL football.


What are NFL Wild Card teams?

NFL Wild Card teams are non-division-winning teams in each conference (AFC and NFC) that qualify for the playoffs based on regular-season performance. 

There are three Wild Card teams in each conference, making a total of six, and they compete in the Wild Card round of the postseason.

How are Wild Card teams determined?

Wild Card teams are determined by regular-season records. The three teams in each conference with the best records that didn’t win their divisions become Wild Card teams. 

These teams are seeded lower than division champions but still earn a spot in the playoffs.

What is the purpose of Wild Card teams in the NFL playoffs?

Wild Card teams add excitement and competitiveness to the playoffs. They provide opportunities for deserving teams that didn’t win their divisions to compete for the Super Bowl. 

Their inclusion ensures that the postseason is more inclusive and unpredictable.

Have Wild Card teams won the Super Bowl before?

Yes, several Wild Card teams have won the Super Bowl in NFL history. These teams often face a tougher road to the championship, but their resilience and ability to perform under pressure have led to memorable Super Bowl victories.

Can a Wild Card team host a playoff game?

Yes, under certain circumstances, a Wild Card team can host a playoff game. 

If a Wild Card team has a better regular-season record than the lower-seeded division champion, they will host the Wild Card round game, even if it’s against a division champion with a worse record.

Wrapping Up

The NFL Wild Card teams are more than just statistical anomalies in the playoffs; they are the embodiment of resilience, adaptability, and the unwavering spirit of competition. 

In this blog post, we’ve uncovered the essence of these teams, from their humble beginnings to their remarkable playoff journeys. As they take the field, Wild Card teams remind us that in sports, as in life, anything is possible. 

They challenge the status quo, and with their aggressive play, tactical prowess, and a dose of underdog determination, they leave an indelible mark on the NFL postseason.

So, the next time you witness a Wild Card team making a dramatic playoff run, remember the grit and passion that brought them there. 

They are a testament to the enduring appeal of sports, where the journey itself is often as remarkable as the destination, and where Wild Card teams continue to capture the hearts of football fans everywhere. Thank you for your time. 

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn