The 1961 NFL season was the 42nd regular season of the National Football League. The league expanded to 14 teams with the addition of the Minnesota Vikings, after the team's owners declined to be charter members of the new American Football League. The schedule was also expanded from 12 games per team to 14 games per team. The Vikings were placed in the Western Conference, and the Dallas Cowboys were switched from the Western Conference to the Eastern. Addition of the Vikings returned the NFL to an even number of teams.
The new Minnesota Vikings won their first game when they upset the Chicago Bears team, 37–13, on September 17, 1961. Mike Mercer made the Vikings' first points on a 12-yard field goal, and Fran Tarkenton guided the team to five touchdowns. The Vikings finished at 3–11 after that good start. With 14 teams in two conferences, each NFL team now played a 14 game schedule: a home-and-away series with the other six teams in their division, and two interconference games.
In Week Five, the Giants and Eagles led the Eastern, and the Packers and 49ers led the Western, all with records of 4–1. The following week, the 49ers lost to the Bears, 31–0, while Green Bay beat Minnesota 33–7. The Giants and Eagles, both winners, remained tied in the Eastern standings at 5–1. In Week Seven, Dallas edged the Giants 17–16, while the Eagles beat the Redskins 27–24 on Sonny Jurgensen's last-quarter touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald. In Week Nine (November 12), the Giants beat the Eagles, 38–21, to give both teams 7–2 records, while Green Bay survived a game at Chicago, 31–28, that would otherwise have tied both teams at 6–3; Green Bay led the Western race the rest of the way. In Week Ten, New York's 42–21 win over Pittsburgh put it at 8–2, while Cleveland's 45–24 win over Philadelphia put both those teams at 7–3. In Week 11 (December 3), New York lost 20–17 to Green Bay, while the Eagles won 35–24 at Pittsburgh, tying the race again.
The Giants and Eagles, both at 9–3, met the following week in Philadelphia (December 10). After New York trailed 10–7, Coach Allie Sherman replaced Y.A. Tittle with Charlie Conerly, who at 40 was the NFL's oldest player. Conerly threw for three touchdowns for the 28–24 win. The winning score came after the Eagles were penalized for roughing the kicker on the Giants' fourth down, giving the Giants first down on the 24. At season's end (December 17), the Eagles rallied to beat Detroit 27–24, and hoped for a Giants' loss to force a playoff. At that moment, New York and Cleveland were tied 7–7 with two minutes left. A long punt by the Giants' Don Chandler pinned the Browns on their own 7-yard line, and ended any threat of a loss.