After the 16-game season, the best teams get to play in the playoffs. In playoff games, whichever team wins gets to play again the next week, and the losing team is done for the season. The last playoff game is the Super Bowl, and the winning team is the NFL champion.
A total of 12 of the 32 teams, six in each conference, make the playoffs. Figuring out which teams get into the playoffs isn't easy. Here are the guidelines:
The winning team in each division makes the playoffs.
In each conference, the two teams with the best records that aren't division winners also make the playoffs. These two teams are called wild card teams.
Once the playoff teams are determined, the playoff schedule is set. The first weekend after the regular season is wild card weekend. The wild card teams play against four of the eight division-winning teams.
The two teams in each conference with the best records earn a bye, meaning they don't have to play a game during wild card weekend. Instead, they get an extra week off.
After wild card weekend comes the divisional playoffs, in which the teams with byes play the winners from wild card weekend. In the next weekend, the winners play the conference championship games, after which only two teams are left—the AFC champion and the NFC champion. These are the teams that go to the Super Bowl.
The hard part of figuring out who's in the playoffs comes when teams finish the season with the same record. The NFL tiebreaker rules are quite complicated. Games within a division and games between teams in the same conference are most important when determining who wins a tiebreaker. You can read the details at NFL.com.
Starting in August, each team plays four preseason games. These do not count in the standings, so the best players don't usually play much. Instead, you'll see some of the backup players competing for jobs.
Belichick's Rough Start
Bill Belichick is currently the Patriots’ head coach. Belichick's first head coaching job was with the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to 1995. There, his teams compiled a losing record and only went to the playoffs once. Sure, he's probably a better coach now than he was then. But the Patriots organization probably works better with Belichick's style than did the Browns.