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How the Super Bowl Works

By: Kevin Bonsor & John Donovan  | 

Getting to the Super Bowl

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a chance to win his second Super Bowl when the Chiefs play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. Mahomes also could become just the 10th player in NFL history to win the NFL MVP trophy and the Super Bowl in the same season. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

To win the Super Bowl, a team must first make it to the big game. That's no easy task. The first goal of any NFL team is to survive the grueling regular season schedule — it's now 17 games — with a worthy record. Usually, 10 or more wins are required to make the playoffs, but that's no guarantee.

In 2021, the NFL expanded its playoff field to 14 teams, up from 12. Four division winners from the NFL's two 16-team conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) — earn an automatic trip to the playoffs. In addition, the three non-division winners with the best overall record get in as wild card teams. The playoff teams are then ranked, or seeded, according to their finish in the conference, as follows:

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  1. The division winner with the best record
  2. The division winner with the second-best record
  3. The division winner with the third-best record
  4. The division winner with the fourth-best record
  5. The wild card team with the best record
  6. The wild card team with the second-best record
  7. The wild card team with the third-best record

There are four rounds in the NFL playoffs, including the Super Bowl. Both conferences use the same format. Here is a breakdown of each round:

  • Wild card round: The top seed in each conference automatically advances to the Divisional playoff round, their reward for their regular-season success. The three wild card teams in each conference travel to the home field of the three lower-seeded division winners. The No. 2 seed hosts the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed hosts the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed hosts the No. 5 seed. Winners advance to the next round.
  • Divisional playoff round: Four teams in each conference (eight teams, total) are left after the wild card games. The top playoff seeds remaining in each conference have home-field advantage in this round and are matched up against the lowest seeds remaining.
  • Conference championship round: The two teams in each conference (four total) that survive the first two rounds meet to play for the conference championship. The team with the highest seed plays on their home field. The two conference champions advance to the Super Bowl.
  • Super Bowl: The game is played at a pre-determined site, typically on the last Sunday in January or the first Sunday in February. The 2023 Super Bowl (Super Bowl LVII) will be Sunday, Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
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