Clinched Playoff Berth vs Clinched Division Explained

Football terminology can be confusing, the terms “clinched playoff berth” and “clinched division” are usually only used around the end of the season. This can leave fans wondering what it means when you clinch a berth, division, or conference.

Clinching a division means a team has officially secured the top position in its division for the regular season.

A clinched playoff berth means a team has secured a position in the playoffs. A team with a clinched playoff berth can lose out the rest of the season and will still have a spot in the playoffs.

A clinched division is better than clinching a playoff birth. Both of these terms mean the team is going to the playoffs but a clinched division is going to result in a higher seeding.

In the NFL there are eight different divisions across the league. Each division has four teams, with the winner of each division is guaranteed to go to the playoffs.

Additionally, six more teams (three from each conference) are selected to make the playoffs as well. These six teams are chosen based on the best regular-season record amongst the teams that did not win their division.

These playoff positions are referred to as wild cards.

When you have clinched a playoff berth you may still win your division or end up a wild card. When you have clinched the division you have already established yourself as the division winner for the year.

Why Does It Matter If You Clinch The Division

Now that you know the difference between these two terms it’s time to break down why it matters.


When you win a division you are already seeded above the wild card teams. The teams that won their division will be ranked one to four. Your matchup for the first round of the playoffs will be determined by your seeding.

The higher seeds playing the lower seeds in the first round. This means if you win your division you will have an easier matchup than if you simply secure a playoff birth.

The matchups you have in playoffs are going to play a big a large role in how far a team advances. Being able to avoid the other top teams in the conference by gaining a high seed can be an effective strategy.

With only a few wins needed to make the Superbowl getting an easy matchup or two can be vital.

Home Field Advantage

home fans at a texas football game

Additionally with higher seeding comes home-field advantage. All throughout the playoffs up until the Superbowl the team with the higher seed will play on their home turf.

Not only does this offer your team fan support during the game it can also mean your team will not have to travel during these games.

Fan support in the stadium is going to give your team an advantage via crowd noise. On third downs the hometown fans will get quite loud when the opposing team has the ball.

This can make it difficult for them to communicate and potentially can result in a delay of game penalty.

Traveling to an away stadium can also be tough on a team in the playoffs. It is not uncommon for fans to mess with players’ sleep schedules when they are staying in a hotel for an away game.

Not to mention teams are usually accustomed to playing games in their city’s weather. If the Miami Dolphins visit the Buffalo Bills in January these players are not likely going to be comfortable in the Buffalo weather.

What Is A Clinched Wild Card?

A wild card is a term used to designate the teams that made the playoffs without winning their division. Along with clinching a division or playoff berth you may also clinch a wildcard.

In order to clinch a wild card, you must be far enough behind your division leader that you cannot catch up. You must also have enough wins that you are guaranteed to be one of the six teams selected as a wild card.

In most cases, a clinched wild card occurs when there is a quality team playing in a division with a Superbowl contender.

Can You Clinch A Conference?

Though this is not common terminology you can in fact clinch a conference. In most terms clinching a conference is referred to as clinching the number one seed.

This is especially important because only the number one seed is able to get a bye for the first round of playoffs.

This bye allows you to skip over the first round of playoffs. Not only does this increase your chance of winning the Superbowl as you have one less opponent. It also allows your players one extra week of rest prior to their first playoff game.

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about clinching a spot in the playoffs check out our guides to clinching a conference or learn about securing a wild card spot.

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