The playoffs, postseason, or finals of a sports league are a game or series of games played after the regular season by the top competitors, usually but not always with a single-elimination system, to determine the league champion or a similar accolade.
In the U.S. and Canada, the vast distances and consequent burdens on cross-country travel have led to regional groupings of teams, usually called divisions. Generally, during the regular season, teams play more games against opponents that are within their own grouping than those outside it. Since every team has not necessarily had a chance to prove itself against every other team, a playoff is necessary every season. Any team that wins its grouping is eligible to participate in the playoffs. As playoffs became more popular, they were expanded to allow teams that finished second or even lower in the grouping to participate. The term wild card refers to these teams. While they technically can refer to any team that does not finish first in its grouping, the term is most often used when the teams that qualify without finishing first in their group is quite low, such as in the NFL and MLB where only four teams out of 32 in the former and 30 in the latter qualify in this manner. In fact the term was first used when the number of teams qualifying as wild cards was even lower, when the wildcard was first invented by the NFL in 1970 and only two teams qualified as non first place finishers. MLB also had only two wildcards teams from its first year of having wildcards in 1995 until expanding to a four wildcard format beginning with the 2012 season.
In England playoffs are used in soccer to decide promotion for lower finishing teams, rather than to decide a champion in the way they are used in North America. In the Championship (the second tier of English football) teams finishing 3rd to 6th after the regular season compete to decide the final promotion spot to the Premier League.
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