The National Football Leagueplayoffs for the 2015 season began on January 9, 2016. The postseason tournament concluded with Super Bowl 50, on February 7, when the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
For this year only, the Super Bowl decided not to use a Roman numeral ("L") and instead used the standard numeral "50". According to Jaime Weston, the league's vice president of brand and creative, the primary reason was that the league's graphic designers had difficulty designing a suitable, aesthetically pleasing logo with only the Roman numeral "L".
Further information: NFL playoffs § Current playoff system
Within each conference, the four division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The four division winners are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams are seeded 5 and 6. The NFL does not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there are no restrictions regarding teams from the same division matching up in any round. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the third-seeded division winner hosts the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosts the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then receive a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosts the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5 or 6), while the number 2 seed will play the other team (seed 3, 4 or 5). The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, is played at a neutral site, the designated home team is based on an annual rotation by conference.
- * Indicates overtime victory
NFL playoff schedule
In a change from previous seasons, both AFC Wild Card games were played on the Saturday, and then both NFC Wild Card games were played on the Sunday (instead of having a game from each conference on the same day).
|Away team||Score||Home team||Date||Kickoff|
(ET / UTC-5)
|Wild Card playoffs|
|Kansas City Chiefs||30–0||Houston Texans||January 9, 2016||4:35 PM||ABC/ESPN|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||18–16||Cincinnati Bengals||January 9, 2016||8:15 PM||CBS|
|Seattle Seahawks||10–9||Minnesota Vikings||January 10, 2016||1:05 PM||NBC|
|Green Bay Packers||35–18||Washington Redskins||January 10, 2016||4:40 PM||Fox|
|Kansas City Chiefs||20–27||New England Patriots||January 16, 2016||4:35 PM||CBS|
|Green Bay Packers||20–26 (OT)||Arizona Cardinals||January 16, 2016||8:15 PM||NBC|
|Seattle Seahawks||24–31||Carolina Panthers||January 17, 2016||1:05 PM||Fox|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||16–23||Denver Broncos||January 17, 2016||4:40 PM||CBS|
|New England Patriots||18–20||Denver Broncos||January 24, 2016||3:05 PM||CBS|
|Arizona Cardinals||15–49||Carolina Panthers||January 24, 2016||6:40 PM||Fox|
|Super Bowl 50|
Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
|Carolina Panthers||10–24||Denver Broncos||February 7, 2016||6:30 PM||CBS|
All playoff games aired on network television. This was the NFL's standard policy through the end of the previous TV contract in 2013. After airing one game exclusively on cable on ESPN in 2014, the lone game which The Walt Disney Company owns the rights to will be broadcast on both ESPN and ABC, a broadcast network with a much larger audience. From Disney's purchase of ESPN and ABC in 1996 through 2005, ABC had aired all of Disney's playoff games (the network also aired Monday Night Football at the time). The last such broadcast was Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season. Disney did not own any playoff rights from 2006 through 2013.
ABC and ESPN simulcast one AFC Wild Card game, while CBS broadcast the rest of the AFC playoff games. Coverage of the NFC Wild Card and Divisional rounds was split between NBC and Fox, with each network having coverage of one game in each of those two rounds. Fox had exclusive coverage of the NFC Championship Game. CBS had exclusive coverage of the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl 50.
ESPN Deportes served as the league's Spanish-language broadcaster.
Playoff games TV ratings
|Rank||Game||Date||Matchup||Network||Viewers (millions)||TV Rating|
|1||Super Bowl 50||February 7, 2016, 6:30 ET||Carolina Panthers||10–24||Denver Broncos||CBS||111.9||46.6|
|2||AFC Championship||January 24, 2016, 3:05 ET||New England Patriots||18–20||Denver Broncos||53.3||31.7|
|3||NFC Championship||January 24, 2016, 6:40 ET||Arizona Cardinals||15–49||Carolina Panthers||Fox||45.7||26.8|
|4||Divisional Round||January 17, 2016, 4:40 ET||Pittsburgh Steelers||16–23||Denver Broncos||CBS||43.0||26.2|
|5||Wild Card Round||January 10, 2016, 4:40 ET||Green Bay Packers||35–18||Washington Redskins||Fox||38.8||23.6|
|6||Divisional Round||January 17, 2016, 1:05 ET||Seattle Seahawks||24–31||Carolina Panthers||36.7||23.1|
|7||Wild Card Round||January 10, 2016, 1:05 ET||Seattle Seahawks||10–9||Minnesota Vikings||NBC||35.3||22.5|
|8||Divisional Round||January 16, 2016 8:15 ET||Green Bay Packers||20–26|
|9||Divisional Round||January 16, 2016, 4:35 ET||Kansas City Chiefs||20–27||New England Patriots||CBS||31.5||19.7|
|10||Wild Card Round||January 9, 2016, 8:15 ET||Pittsburgh Steelers||18–16||Cincinnati Bengals||31.2||19.2|
|11||Wild Card Round||January 9, 2016, 4:20 ET||Kansas City Chiefs||30–0||Houston Texans||ABC/ESPN||25.1||16.2|
Wild Card Playoffs
For the first time since the wild card round expanded to four games in 1990–91, all four playoff games on wild card weekend were won by the visiting teams. It also marked the first time in that all of the wild card teams advanced past the first round of the playoffs (this was only possible from 1970–71 until 1977–78 and since 2002–03, because playoff formats between 1978–79 and 2001–02 included first-round games between two wild card teams).
Saturday, January 9, 2016
AFC: Kansas City Chiefs 30, Houston Texans 0
Kansas City, who started the season 1–5 before winning their next 10 games, forced five turnovers and held the Texans to 226 total yards as they earned their first postseason win since the 1993 season (a game also played at Houston, against the Oilers), and the first shutout victory in an NFL playoff game in 10 years. It is the first (and to date only) time the Texans have been shut out at home.
Chiefs running back Knile Davis gave his team a 7–0 lead just 11 seconds into the game by returning the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, making him the first player to score a touchdown on the first kickoff of an NFL postseason. The two teams went on to exchange punts, and then interceptions, as Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer was picked off by Eric Berry and Alex Smith returned the favor with a pass that bounced out of the hands of Jeremy Maclin and was intercepted by linebacker Brian Cushing.
Houston then drove to the Chiefs' 30-yard line, but on 3rd-and-7, Hoyer lost a fumble while being sacked by Allen Bailey, and defensive tackle Dontari Poe recovered it on the Chiefs' 42-yard line. Kansas City subsequently drove 27 yards, including an 18-yard catch by tight end Travis Kelce, to go up 10–0 on a 49-yard Cairo Santos field goal. On the Chiefs' next possession, Kelce caught a 25-yard pass on a 40-yard drive that ended on another 49-yard field goal by Santos, making the score 13–0. Houston took the ball back and drove to the Kansas City 3-yard line, but linebacker Josh Mauga's interception kept them off the scoreboard going into halftime.
Houston started the second half with a drive to the Chiefs' 40-yard line, but ended up punting. Shane Lechler managed to pin Kansas City back on their own 6-yard line with a 34-yard punt. But despite two holding penalties against the Chiefs, one of which nullified a 64-yard scramble by Smith, they still drove 94 yards in 11 plays for their first touchdown. Maclin was a key part of the drive, catching two passes for 23 yards, though on the second one he suffered a game-ending injury; Smith also completed a 16-yard pass to Kelce and finished the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Chris Conley, give the Chiefs a 20–0 lead.
On their next drive, the Texans had to punt after three plays, and then saw Kansas City drive 71 yards in eight plays, featuring a 48-yard reception by Kelce, to score on 5-yard touchdown run by Spencer Ware. Houston managed to respond with a drive to the Chiefs' 24-yard line, only to lose the ball when Bailey again forced a fumble while sacking Hoyer on fourth down. The Texans' defense forced a punt, but Dustin Colquitt's 56-yard kick pinned them back on their 8-yard line. On the next play, Hoyer was intercepted by Sean Smith on the 20-yard line, leading to Santos' third field goal to make the final score 30–0.
Smith completed 17 of 22 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His top target was Kelce, who caught eight passes for 128 yards, while Ware was the top rusher for the Chiefs with 67 yards and a touchdown. Bailey had four tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. Hoyer was held to just 15 of 34 passes for 134 yards and was intercepted four times. Alfred Blue was the game's leading rusher with 99 yards on 17 carries. Cushing had 13 tackles and an interception, while linebacker Whitney Mercilus had five tackles and three sacks.
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 18, Cincinnati Bengals 16
This game ended up being a rain-soaked vicious battle between two AFC North rivals, filled with injuries and personal fouls on both sides. After falling behind 15–0, the Bengals scored three times in the fourth quarter to take a 16–15 lead. But with less than a minute left in the game, two consecutive personal fouls against Cincinnati's defense got the Steelers close enough for Chris Boswell to make a 35-yard field goal with 18 seconds left on the clock.
The game started off as a defensive battle with both teams punting at the end of its first eight drives. With less than six minutes left in the second quarter, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict forced a fumble from Markus Wheaton that safety George Iloka recovered on the Cincinnati 47-yard line. But a few plays later, Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron threw an interception to Antwon Blake, who returned it 35 yards to the Bengals' 41-yard line. A 23-yard completion from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown on the ensuing drive set up Boswell's 39-yard field goal. Following a punt, Roethlisberger completed a 16-yard pass to running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and a 24-yard pass to Wheaton – with a personal foul penalty on safety Shawn Williams adding another 15 yards – to set up Boswell's 30-yard field goal just before halftime. Despite the Steelers' slim 6–0 lead, they had dominated the stat sheet, holding Cincinnati to just 56 yards and two first downs.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Bengals seemed primed to score when Jeremy Hill broke free for a 38-yard run to the Steelers' 29-yard line. But on the next play, McCarron lost a fumble due to a hit by linebacker Jarvis Jones. Defensive end Cam Thomas recovered the ball and ended up losing it while being tackled, then defensive back William Gay picked it up and returned it for a touchdown. However, replays showed that Thomas was down by contact before he lost the fumble, and a 15-yard penalty against Gay for excessive celebration moved the ball all the way back to Pittsburgh's 36-yard line. Receiver Martavis Bryant's 44-yard run on an end-around play then set up Boswell's 34-yard field goal that gave the Steelers a 9–0 lead. Following a punt, Roethlisberger completed a 60-yard pass to Brown on the Bengals' 10-yard line. Then he threw a pass in the back of the end zone to Bryant, who made a diving somersault catch and maintained possession for a touchdown by pinning the ball against one leg while falling to the ground. However, Pittsburgh's two-point conversion attempt failed, so the score remained 15–0. Cincinnati responded with a drive to the Steelers' 23-yard line, but committed another turnover when running back Giovani Bernard lost a fumble that was forced and recovered by linebacker Ryan Shazier, who leveled Bernard with a devastating helmet leading hit that knocked the running back out of the game. Shazier was not penalized for the hit, much to the dismay of the home crowd.
On the last play of the third quarter, Burfict sacked Roethlisberger for a 12-yard loss, forcing a punt from the Steelers' 5-yard line and temporarily knocking Roethlisberger out of the game with a shoulder injury. After Jordan Berry's 41-yard punt gave the Bengals a first down on the Pittsburgh 46-yard line, Steelers defensive back Will Allen committed a 42-yard pass interference penalty while trying to cover A. J. Green. Hill then got the ball into the end zone with consecutive carries, the second a 1-yard touchdown run that made the score 15–7. The Steelers, now led by Landry Jones, started off their next drive well, as Jordan Todman rushed for a 25-yard gain on the second play. But an 11-yard sack by Carlos Dunlap and Pat Sims ultimately forced the Steelers to punt. McCarron started the Bengals' drive off with two completions to Hill for 24 total yards. Later on, he converted a 3rd-and-9 with an 18-yard completion to tight end Tyler Eifert, and eventually the Bengals got close enough for Mike Nugent to kick a 36-yard field goal, making the score 15–10 with 5:17 left. The Steelers had to punt after three plays on their ensuing possession, and Adam Jones' 24-yard return gave the Bengals the ball on the Pittsburgh 45-yard line. McCarron soon faced a 4th-and-2 situation, but converted with a 9-yard completion to Marvin Jones. Then when faced with 3rd-and-7, he launched a 25-yard touchdown pass to Green. After their two-point conversion failed, the Bengals held a 16–15 lead with 1:45 left. On the first play after the kickoff, Landry Jones threw an interception to Burfict on the Steelers' 26-yard line. He celebrated by running all the way through the tunnel. But with the game now seemingly in the Bengals' control, they gave the ball right back on the next play when Shazier forced a fumble from Hill that was recovered by defensive back Ross Cockrell.
Now with the ball on his own 11-yard line with 1:23 left, Roethlisberger returned to lead his team 74 yards in nine plays for the game-winning score. After several short completions moved the ball to the 37-yard line, Pittsburgh faced a 4th-and-3, but overcame it on Brown's 12-yard reception. On the next play, with just 22 seconds left, Roethlisberger threw a pass intended for Brown. The pass was incomplete, but Burfict was flagged for a personal foul for contact with Brown's helmet. Brown was injured on the play, and as he was being attended and officials were dealing with both teams, Adam Jones was flagged for a personal foul after an altercation with Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter, giving the Steelers another 15 yards and moving the ball to the Bengals' 17-yard line. On the next play, Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 18 seconds left to win the game.
Roethlisberger completed 18 of 31 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, while Brown caught seven passes for 119 yards and Todman was the game's leading rusher with 65 yards. Shazier had 13 tackles – nine of which were solo tackles – a pair of forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. McCarron completed 23 of 41 passes for 213 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Hill rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown, while also catching three passes for 27 yards. Green caught five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, while Burfict had six tackles, a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble.
This marked another round of playoff futility for the Bengals, who lost their fifth playoff game in a row after starting the season 8–0 and finishing with a franchise record tying 12–4 record, despite losing starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a broken thumb injury in week 14. The Bengals have now lost an NFL record eight consecutive playoff games since 1990, while coach Marvin Lewis' playoff record fell to 0–7, the most losses ever by a coach without a postseason win. After the game, Dalton stated that "This locker room should feel a lot different right now. We won that game and then we didn't".
Sportswriter Mike Freeman called this game "one of the dirtiest and ugliest contests in the modern era of the sport". Burfict received a 3-game suspension for his hit on Brown (including the Week 2 matchup between the two teams), while four players and two assistant coaches also received fines. Jones received the most severe fine at $28,000, while Steelers lineman Ramon Foster was fined $17,000. Bengals defensive linemen Wallace Gilberry and Domata Peko each received an $8,600 fine, while Porter and fellow Steelers assistant coach Mike Munchak were fined $10,000 each. In the offseason, the league passed a rule banning any coaches except for the head coach from entering the field of play, and then only to check on an injured player, directly in response to the incident.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
NFC: Seattle Seahawks 10, Minnesota Vikings 9
In their final game at TCF Bank Stadium – prior to the Vikings' move to U.S. Bank Stadium for the 2016 season – Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal attempt with 22 seconds remaining as the Seahawks held on to win 10–9. The temperature at kickoff was −6 °F (−21 °C), making this the third coldest game in NFL history.
On their first possession Seattle went three-and-out, but punter Jon Ryan bobbled a low snap and was unable to get off a punt, giving Minnesota possession at the Seattle 29-yard line. The Vikings drove to the 4-yard line but had to settle for a Walsh field goal to open the scoring. After both teams punted on their next possession, Seattle drove to the Vikings' 30-yard line and faced a 4th-and-13. Rather than attempt a field goal, Russell Wilson threw a pass to Fred Jackson who was tackled short of a first down after a 7-yard gain. Neither team could score for the rest of the half, and Minnesota went to halftime leading 3–0. Both teams combined for 185 total yards in the half, the lowest in a playoff game since 2005.
On the first possession of the second half Seattle drove into Minnesota territory and again went for it on fourth down, only for Wilson to be intercepted by Trae Waynes. Minnesota was then helped by a penalty for Cliff Avril roughing the passer, and Walsh kicked a 43-yard field goal to give them a 6–0 lead. Seattle went three-and-out on their next drive, and Minnesota began their drive in Seahawks territory after a horse collar tackle on the punt return. They settled for another Walsh field goal, this time from 47-yards out, to take a 9–0 lead into the fourth quarter. With the ball on the Vikings' 39-yard line on the ensuing drive, Wilson could not handle the snap and recovered it back at his own 45-yard line, but then found Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard completion. Two plays later Wilson threw a touchdown to Doug Baldwin, cutting the deficit to 9–7. On Minnesota's second play of the next drive Kam Chancellor forced an Adrian Peterson fumble which was recovered by Ahtyba Rubin at the Vikings' 40-yard line. Steven Hauschka converted on a 46-yard field goal to put Seattle ahead 10–9 with 8:04 remaining. Both teams punted on their next two drives, and Minnesota took possession with 1:42 left on their own 39-yard line. With a 19-yard pass interference call on Chancellor and a 24-yard pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota advanced to the Seattle 9-yard line with 26 seconds remaining. Walsh, however, kicked the 27-yard field goal wide left, allowing Seattle to kneel out the clock and preserve the victory.
Bridgewater finished as the leading passer with 146 yards, while Wilson recorded 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Seattle held Peterson, the league's leading rusher during the regular season, to just 45 yards on 23 carries. The win was Wilson's seventh playoff victory, the most by a quarterback within his first four seasons. Seattle became just the fifth team to win a playoff game despite scoring ten or fewer points, and the first since 1997.
NFC: Green Bay Packers 35, Washington Redskins 18
Green Bay erased an early 11–0 deficit by scoring on five consecutive possessions on the way to a 35–18 victory over the Redskins.
Early in the first quarter, Tress Way's 57-yard punt and a 12-yard penalty against Green Bay pinned the Packers back at their own 8-yard line. A few plays later, Preston Smith sacked Aaron Rodgers in the end zone for a safety, giving Washington a 2–0 lead. On the ensuing drive the Redskins drove to the Green Bay 1-yard line with a 14-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to DeSean Jackson that was initially ruled a touchdown but reversed upon review. The Packers defense held the Redskins to a 25-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal, and Washington led 5–0 at the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Washington drove 64 yards in seven plays, including a 20-yard reception by tight end Jordan Reed and a 13-yard catch by Pierre Garçon, to score on Cousins' 24-yard touchdown pass to Reed; Hopkins missed the extra point, therefore Washington took a 11–0 lead. Green Bay, however, responded by scoring 17 points by the end of the half. First, a 34-yard completion from Rodgers to James Jones set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Then linebacker Mike Neal forced and recovered a fumble while sacking Cousins on the Packers' 46-yard line, resulting in a 30-yard drive that ended with Mason Crosby's 43-yard field goal. Washington had to punt on their next drive, and Micah Hyde returned the ball 17 yards to the Packers 40-yard line. Green Bay then drove 60 yards, including a 20-yard reception by Davante Adams on 3rd-and-2, to score on Rodgers' 10-yard touchdown toss to Adams, giving the team a 17–11 lead with 28 seconds left in the half.
Washington regrouped on their first possession of the second half, scoring on a 9-play, 74-yard drive, starting off with a 21-yard reception by Garçon, and Alfred Morris had a 19-yard carry on the next play. Cousins later completed a 17-yard pass to Reed before finishing the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, regaining the lead at 18–17.
On the Packers' ensuing drive, they faced a 4th-and-1 situation on the Redskins' 45-yard line. In what turned out to be a critical play, Eddie Lacy picked up the first down with an 11-yard run. Lacy added a 30-yard run on the next play, and James Starks finished the drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Packers a 24–18 lead. On their next drive the Packers scored for the fifth straight possession as a 22-yard carry by Starks set up Lacy's 2-yard touchdown run and Jared Abbrederis' 2-point conversion catch to make the score 32–18. Washington was unable to score again as Cousins was sacked twice on fourth down plays, once by linebacker Nick Perry and once by Neal. Perry's sack resulted in a turnover on the Redskins' 17-yard line, leading to Crosby's 29-yard field goal that made the final score 35–18.
Rodgers finished the game with 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Cousins recorded 329 yards with a touchdown. Reed was the top receiver with nine receptions for 120 yards, becoming the first Redskins tight end with 100 receiving yards in a playoff game.
In contrast to wild card weekend, all four higher seeded teams won their games this weekend.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
AFC: New England Patriots 27, Kansas City Chiefs 20
Playing in an NFL record-tying 30th postseason game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, without being sacked or throwing any interceptions, and also rushing for a score as he led the team to their fifth consecutive AFC championship game.
New England scored on their opening drive, moving the ball 80 yards in 11 plays. When faced with 3rd-and-13 on the Chiefs' 43-yard line, Brady completed a 32-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, and later found Gronkowski in the end zone for an 8-yard score. Kansas City responded with a 17-play, 64-yard drive, including quarterback Alex Smith's 15-yard run on 3rd-and-13. The Patriots defense managed to halt the drive on their own 16-yard line, forcing the Chiefs to settle for Cairo Santos' 34-yard field goal to make the score 7–3.
In the second quarter, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt
Here are the times and dates for the NFL 2016–17 postseason. All times are Eastern. Referee assignments will be posted when available.
Wild Card Playoffs
Full crews | Coverage
Saturday, Jan. 7
- ⁵Raiders at ⁴Texans, 4:35 p.m. ESPNABC — Ron Torbert
- ⁶Lions at ³Seahawks, 8:15 p.m. NBC — Brad Allen
Sunday, Jan. 8
- ⁶Dolphins at ³Steelers, 1:05 p.m. CBS — Craig Wrolstad
- ⁵Giants at ⁴Packers, 4:40 p.m. Fox — Ed Hochuli
Full crews | Coverage
Saturday, Jan. 14
- ³Seahawks at ²Falcons, 4:35 p.m. Fox — Gene Steratore
- ⁴Texans at ¹Patriots, 8:15 p.m. CBS — Pete Morelli
Sunday, Jan. 15
- ⁴Packers at ¹Cowboys, 4:40 p.m. Fox — Tony Corrente
- ³Steelers at ²Chiefs, 8:20 p.m.* NBC — Carl Cheffers
*Game rescheduled from 1:05 p.m. due to icy weather forecast.
Full crews | Coverage
Sunday, Jan. 22
- ⁴Packers at ²Falcons, 3:05 p.m. Fox — Bill Vinovich
- ³Steelers at ¹Patriots, 6:40 p.m. CBS — Terry McAulay
Super Bowl LI
Sunday, Feb. 5
†designated home team