clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

When it comes to explaining playoff seeds, don't shirk your responsibility as a football fan

You would think the NFL's playoff system, where the lowest seed always plays the highest, would be easy for people to understand. Sadly, however, I've found myself trying to explain this to fellow fans time and time again.

Ronald Martinez

There are certain things in life that you just take for granted. For example, when you subtract 57 from 68, you come up with 11, right? I mean, everyone knows that, don't they?

You'd be surprised. I know I was when a future college graduate couldn't figure it out--even I know that one, and I'm not even that smart.

When it comes to the NFL's not-so sophisticated playoff seeding system, I'm often amazed at how even the most knowledgeable and intelligent football fans simply don't understand it.

You could be talking to someone who is extremely knowledgeable in spread offenses, zone blitzes and the salary cap, and when the subject of the NFL playoffs comes up, often-times, even someone like that doesn't understand who the six seed plays on WildCard Weekend.

Seed-challenged friend: "Hey man, if the Steelers sneak into the playoffs, who would they play?"

Me: "As the sixth seed in the AFC, Pittsburgh would play the Bengals, the number three seed in the conference."

Seed-challenged friend: "Really? Who does the fourth seed play?"

Me: "The fourth seed plays the fifth seed. You see, in any NFL playoff bracket, the highest seed (in the case of Wildcard Weekend, that would be the third seed) always plays the lowest seed (the sixth seed) and then it just goes down the line from there. So, if three is playing six, that would leave four and five, and they would play one another."

Seed-challenged friend: "I see. So why can't five play six? Is this because Godell knows the Steelers could beat Kansas City, and he just wants to screw them, like he always does?"

Me: "No, I just explained that. The Chiefs, as the fifth seed, would travel to Indianapolis, the fourth seed, for the first round of the playoffs.

Seed-challenged friend: "I see. Man, it would be awesome if Pittsburgh would play the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. Andrew Luck might be a star in the making, but Dick LeBeau has a way of torturing young quarterbacks. Maybe that will happen."

Me: "That's not going to happen. Again, provided they make the playoffs, the Steelers would be the sixth seed, and since Indianapolis is the fourth seed, they would host the fifth seed."

Seed-challenged friend: "Why again?"

Me: "F*** you!"

Seed-challenged friend: "OK, OK. What happens if Pittsburgh knocks off the Bengals in the first round, who would be the opponent in the Divisional Playoffs? I hope it's the winner of the Colts/Chiefs game. I think we'd win that one, easily!"

Me: "That can't happen. If the Steelers knock off Cincinnati, they would travel to Denver, the number one seed."

Seed-challenged friend: "Damn it! Is this because Godell wants to screw the Steelers like he always does? Doesn't he know Ryan Clark has a condition? He's trying to kill him, isn't he?"

Me: "No. It's because the Broncos are the number one seed, and they automatically play the lowest remaining seed, which, in this case, would be Pittsburgh."

Seed-challenged friend: "So why can't the winner of the KC/Indy game play the Broncos? Man, but even New England. That would be tough for the Steelers. I sure hope they get to play the winner of the KC/Indy game if they make it to the second round."

Me: "Go to hell."

I had this almost exact conversation many times over the years before it finally occurred to me that I have a special gift of understanding the NFL's playoff system.

For instances, I know that the number three seed never has to worry about playing the number one seed in the divisional playoffs.

Why? Because, if the number three seed wins its wildcard game, that would leave the winner of the four/five game as the lowest remaining seed, who would then have to travel to take on the number one seed, while three travels to play two.

But can four ever play six? Of course, but only in the conference title game. Such a scenario unfolded five seasons ago, when Philadelphia, the sixth seed in the NFC, knocked off the Vikings and Giants in the first two rounds, while Arizona, the fourth seed, took care of Atlanta and Carolina.

You might be asking yourself, "Can the number six seed ever play the number one seed in the conference title game?"


The number one seed can play any of the other seeds on Championship Sunday, but the only way it could play the sixth seed is on Divisional Playoff Weekend.

As for the number two seed, it could play any seed from number one, all the way down to number six in the conference title game.

This is stuff that I simply just understand, and it's my calling to explain it to people.

If you have a similar gift, and you find yourself in conversations about playoff seeds this weekend, don't blow your top. Don't be a football elitist.

Just patiently explain things and pass your knowledge along.

You'll be making the world a better place.


If the question "Why can't the 49ers play the Broncos this weekend?" comes up, feel free to blow your stack.