When do the NFL playoffs start in 2021? Date, TV schedule & updated AFC, NFC playoff brackets
Sporting News 2hrs ago

Even though the NFL's upcoming playoffs take place in 2021, they're the conclusion of the 2020 season, and if we've learned one thing, it's to expect the unexpected.

The league could have decisions to make about putting teams into bubbles, expanding the field, altering game times and who knows what else based on COVID-19 as it rises across the country through the holiday season. You can be sure of one thing: The NFL will make sure the Super Bowl gets played. The current plan is for an expanded 14-team field to compete for the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa on Feb. 7.

There's still a lot to be determined down the stretch of the season. The Steelers and Chiefs are fighting for the AFC's lone playoff bye, while the NFC will almost certainly have a sub-.500 division champion in the NFC East messing up what otherwise is a pretty logical playoff picture. 

Below is everything you need to know about the NFL playoffs in 2021, including dates and a TV schedule for each round, how all the tiebreakers work and how the playoff picture currently sits. 

MORE: Explaining the NFL's expanded playoffs

When do the NFL playoffs start in 2021?

  • Wild-card games: Jan. 9-10
  • Divisional games: Jan. 16-17
  • Conference championships: Jan. 24
  • Super Bowl: Feb. 7

In the NFL's expanded playoffs for the 2021 postseason, seven teams from each conference make the field. That's different from recent years, when six teams from the AFC and NFC each participated.

With seven teams advancing to the postseason, that changes the bye scenario — while in the past two teams received first-round byes, it's only the top seed in each conference receiving a bye week now. After that, things proceed as they classically have, with four teams playing on each side of the divisional bracket before the conference championship games and Super Bowl.

NFL playoff bracket

a screenshot of a video game: nfl-playoff-bracket-2021 © Provided by Sporting News nfl-playoff-bracket-2021

Here's a look at the complete NFL playoff bracket for 2021:

AFC

1. Kansas City Chiefs (bye)

2. Buffalo Bills vs. 7. Indianapolis Colts

3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. 6. Cleveland Browns

4. Tennessee Titans vs. 5. Baltimore Ravens

NFC

1. Green Bay Packers (bye)

2. New Orleans Saints vs. 7. Chicago Bears

3. Seattle Seahawks vs. 6. Los Angeles Rams

4. Washington Football Team vs. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

MORE: Watch NFL playoff games live on fuboTV (7-day free trial)

NFL playoff schedule 2021

Wild-card round

Saturday, Jan. 9

Matchup Start time TV channel Live stream
Colts at Bills 1:05 p.m. ET CBS CBS All Access, fuboTV
Rams at Seahawks 4:40 p.m. ET Fox Fox Sports Go, fuboTV
Buccaneers at Washington 8:15 p.m. ET NBC NBC Sports App, fuboTV

Sunday, Jan. 10

Matchup Start time TV channel Live stream
Ravens at Titans 1:05 p.m. ET ESPN/ABC ESPN App, fuboTV
Bears at Saints 4:40 p.m. ET CBS/Nickelodeon/Amazon Prime CBS All Access, Amazon Prime Video, fuboTV
Browns at Steelers 8:15 p.m. ET NBC NBC Sports App, fuboTV

Divisional round

Saturday, Jan. 16


Video: Detroit Lions Matt Prater sets NFL record for most career 50+ yard field goals (SMG)

Matchup Start time TV channel Live stream
AFC Divisional Round (TBD at TBD) TBD TBD fuboTV
NFC Divisional Round (TBD at TBD) TBD TBD fuboTV

Sunday, Jan. 17

Matchup Start time TV channel Live stream
AFC Divisional Round (TBD at TBD) TBD TBD fuboTV
NFC Divisional Round (TBD at TBD) TBD TBD fuboTV

Conference championships

Sunday, Jan. 24

Matchup Away team Start time TV channel Live stream
NFC vs. NFC NFC TBD 3:05 p.m. ET Fox fuboTV
AFC vs. AFC AFC TBD 6:40 p.m. ET CBS fuboTV

Super Bowl 55

Sunday, Feb. 7

Matchup Start time TV channel Live stream
AFC champion vs. NFC champion 6:30 p.m. ET CBS fuboTV

How do the NFL playoffs work?

Although the postseason will take place in 2021, this is the 2020 season we're talking about, so of course things are different. For the first time, the NFL is rolling out a 14-team playoff system (up from the recently used 12-team system). This doesn't alter how teams make the postseason too heavily — it just means that instead of two wild-card teams, there are now three. It also lowers the number of first-round byes to one from each conference compared to the old two.

The seeding works as follows: 1. the division champion with the best record; 2. the division champion with the second-best record; 3. the division champion with the third-best record; 4. the division champion with the fourth-best record; 5. the wild-card team with the best record; 6. the wild-card club with the second-best record.

The team with the higher seed gets home-field advantage in each playoff game from the wild-card round through the AFC and NFC championship games.

Below are the NFL's tiebreaking procedures for the NFL playoff field.

To break a tie in division standings:

(Between two teams)

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss

(Between three or more teams)

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games among the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss

To break a tie in wild-card standings:

(Between two teams)

  1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  4. Strength of victory.
  5. Strength of schedule.
  6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best net points in conference games.
  9. Best net points in all games.
  10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  11. Coin toss.

(Between three or more teams)

  1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two wild-card participants.
  2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in conference games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss

NFL playoff bracket 2020

Here's a look at the latest NFL playoffs matchups for 2020, updated through Week 16:

AFC

1. Kansas City Chiefs (bye)

2. Buffalo Bills vs. 7. Cleveland Browns

3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. 6. Baltimore Ravens

4. Tennessee Titans vs. 5. Miami Dolphins

NFC

1. Green Bay Packers (bye)

2. New Orleans Saints vs. 7. Chicago Bears

3. Seattle Seahawks vs. 6. Los Angeles Rams

4. Washington Football Team vs. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Current NFL playoff picture

  • AFC
Seed Team Record Clinched
1. Kansas City Chiefs 14-1 Homefield advantage
2. Buffalo Bills 12-3 AFC East
3. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-3 AFC North
4. Tennessee Titans 10-5 N/a
5. Miami Dolphins 10-5 N/a
6. Baltimore Ravens 10-5 N/a
7. Cleveland Browns 10-5 N/a

In the hunt: Colts (10-5)

  • NFC
Seed Team Record Clinched
1. Green Bay Packers 12-3 NFC North
2. New Orleans Saints 11-4 NFC South
3. Seattle Seahawks 11-4 NFC West
4. Washington Football Team 6-9 N/a
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-5 Playoff berth
6. Los Angeles Rams 9-6 N/a
7. Chicago Bears 8-7 N/a

In the hunt: Cardinals (8-7), Cowboys (6-9), Giants (5-10)

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