1978 NFL season

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1978 National Football League season
Regular season
Duration September 2 – December 18, 1978
Playoffs
Start date December 24, 1978
AFC Champions Pittsburgh Steelers
NFC Champions Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl XIII
Date January 21, 1979
Site Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida
Champions Pittsburgh Steelers
Pro Bowl
Date January 29, 1979
Site Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
National Football League seasons
 < 1977 1979 > 

The 1978 NFL season was the 59th regular season of the National Football League. The league expanded the regular season from a 14-game schedule to 16. Furthermore, the playoff format was expanded from 8 teams to 10 teams by adding another wild card from each conference. The wild card teams would play each other with the winner advancing to the playoff round of eight teams.

The season ended with Super Bowl XIII when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys.

Major rule changes[edit]

The league passed major rule changes to encourage offensive scoring. In 1977 – the last year of the so-called "Dead Ball Era" – teams scored an average of 17.2 points per game, the lowest total since the 1940s.[1]

  • To open up the passing game, defenders are permitted to make contact with receivers only to a point of five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This applies only to the time before the ball is thrown, at which point any contact is pass interference. Previously, contact was allowed anywhere on the field. This is usually referred to as the "Mel Blount Rule"
  • The offensive team may only make one forward pass during a play from scrimmage, but only if the ball does not cross the line and return behind the line prior to the pass.
  • Double touching of a forward pass is legal, but batting a pass towards the opponent's end zone is illegal. Previously, a second offensive player could not legally catch a deflected pass unless a defensive player had touched it. This is usually referred to as the "Mel Renfro Rule". During a play in Super Bowl V, Baltimore Colts receiver Eddie Hinton tipped a pass intended for him. Renfro, the Cowboys defensive back, made a stab at the ball and it was ruled that he tipped it ever so slightly (which he denied) into the arms of Colts tight end John Mackey, who ran for a touchdown. Later, this rule was also the one in question during the Immaculate Reception in 1972. But despite these two incidents, the rule change did not occur until this season.
  • The pass blocking rules were extended to permit extended arms and open hands.
  • The penalty for intentional grounding is reduced from a loss of down and 15 yards to a loss of down and 10 yards from the previous spot (or at the spot of the foul if the spot is 10 yards or more behind the line of scrimmage). If the passer commits the foul in his own end zone, the defense scores a safety.
  • Hurdling is no longer a foul.
  • A seventh official, the Side Judge, is added to the officiating crew to help rule on legalities downfield. The addition of 15 officials (one per crew) forced three-digit numbers to be used for the first time.

Interconference Scheduling[edit]

With the start of a 16-game season also marked the start of a new scheduling format that saw a division in one conference play a division in another conference, rotating every season and repeating the process every three years. Previously, teams played random opponents in the other conference. The format remains in effect today, though it was slightly modified over the years, most recently with the addition of two more divisions in 2002.

The interconference matchups for 1978 were as follows:

Division Races[edit]

Starting in 1978, ten teams qualified for the playoffs: the winners of each of the divisions, and two wild-card teams in each conference. The two wild cards would meet for the right to face whichever of the three division winners had the best overall record (or, if the winner of the wild-card playoff was from the same division as that team, the division winner with the second best overall record). The tiebreaker rules were based on head-to-head competition, followed by division records, common opponents' records, and conference play.

National Football Conference[edit]

Week Eastern Central Western WildCard WildCard
1 3 teams 1–0 Chi,GB 1–0 3 teams 1–0
2 Dal,Was 2–0 Chi,GB 2–0 L.A. 2–0
3 Wash. 3–0 Chi. 3–0 L.A. 3–0
4 Wash. 4–0 G.B. 3–1 L.A. 4–0 Chi. 3–1 Dal. 3–1
5 Wash. 5–0 G.B. 4–1 L.A. 5–0 Chi. 3–2 3 tms 3–2
6 Wash. 6–0 G.B. 5–1 L.A. 6–0 Dal. 4–2 Chi. 3–3
7 Wash. 6–1 G.B. 6–1 L.A. 7–0 Dal. 5–2 Phi. 4–3
8 Wash. 6–2 G.B. 6–2 L.A. 7–1 Dal. 6–2 NYG 5–3
9 Wash. 7–2 G.B. 7–2 L.A. 7–2 Dal. 6–3 Atl 5–4
10 Wash. 7–3 G.B. 7–3 L.A. 8–2 Atl. 6–4 Min. 6–4
11 Wash. 8–3 Min. 7–4 L.A. 9–2 Atl. 7–4 Dal. 7–4
12 Wash. 8–4 Min. 7–5 L.A. 10–2 Dal. 8–4 Atl. 7–5
13 Dal. 9–4 Min. 7–5–1 L.A. 10–3 Atl. 8–5 Wash. 8–5
14 Dal. 10–4 Min. 8–5–1 L.A. 11–3 G.B. 8–5–1 Atl. 8–6
15 Dal. 11–4 Min. 8–6–1 L.A. 11–4 Atl. 9–6 G.B. 8–6–1
16 Dal. 12–4 Min. 8–7–1 L.A. 12–4 Atl. 9–7 Phi. 9–7

American Football Conference[edit]

Week Eastern Central Western WildCard WildCard
1 NYJ 1–0 Cle,Pit 1–0 3 teams 1–0
2 NYJ 2–0 Cle,Pit 2–0 4 teams 1–1
3 NYJ 2–1 Cle,Pit 3–0 Den. 2–1 Cle,Pit 3–0 Hou 2–1
4 NYJ 2–2 Pitt 4–0 Den. 3–1 Cle. 3–1 Hou 2–2
5 Mia. 3–2 Pitt 5–0 Den. 4–1 Hou. 3–2 N.E. 3–2
6 Mia. 4–2 Pitt 6–0 Den. 4–2 N.E. 4–2 Oak. 4–2
7 Mia. 5–2 Pitt 7–0 Den. 5–2 N.E. 5–2 Oak. 5–2
8 N.E. 6–2 Pitt 7–1 Den. 5–3 Hou. 5–3 NYJ 5–3
9 N.E. 7–2 Pitt 8–1 Den. 6–3 Mia. 6–3 Hou. 5–4
10 N.E. 8–2 Pitt 9–1 Den. 6–4 Mia. 7–3 Hou. 6–4
11 N.E. 8–3 Pitt 9–2 Den. 7–4 Mia. 8–3 Hou. 7–4
12 N.E. 9–3 Pitt 10–2 Den. 8–4 Hou. 8–4 Mia. 8–4
13 N.E. 10–3 Pitt 11–2 Den. 8–5 Hou. 9–4 Mia. 8–5
14 N.E. 10–4 Pitt 12–2 Den. 9–5 Hou. 9–5 Mia. 9–5
15 N.E. 11–4 Pitt 13–2 Den. 10–5 Hou. 10–5 Mia. 10–5
16 N.E. 11–5 Pitt 14–2 Den. 10–6 Mia. 11–5 Hou. 10–6

Final standings[edit]

W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT = Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against

  x  – clinched wild card berth,   y  – clinched division title

AFC East
Team W L T PCT PF PA
y-New England Patriots 11 5 0 .688 358 286
x-Miami Dolphins 11 5 0 .688 372 254
New York Jets 8 8 0 .500 359 364
Buffalo Bills 5 11 0 .313 302 354
Baltimore Colts 5 11 0 .313 239 421
AFC Central
Team W L T PCT PF PA
y-Pittsburgh Steelers 14 2 0 .875 356 195
x-Houston Oilers 10 6 0 .625 283 298
Cleveland Browns 8 8 0 .500 334 356
Cincinnati Bengals 4 12 0 .250 252 284
AFC West
Team W L T PCT PF PA
y-Denver Broncos 10 6 0 .625 282 198
Oakland Raiders 9 7 0 .563 311 283
Seattle Seahawks 9 7 0 .563 345 358
San Diego Chargers 9 7 0 .563 355 309
Kansas City Chiefs 4 12 0 .250 243 327
NFC East
Team W L T PCT PF PA
y-Dallas Cowboys 12 4 0 .750 384 208
x-Philadelphia Eagles 9 7 0 .563 270 250
Washington Redskins 8 8 0 .500 273 283
St. Louis Cardinals 6 10 0 .375 248 296
New York Giants 6 10 0 .375 264 298
NFC Central
Team W L T PCT PF PA
y-Minnesota Vikings 8 7 1 .531 294 306
Green Bay Packers 8 7 1 .531 249 269
Detroit Lions 7 9 0 .438 290 300
Chicago Bears 7 9 0 .438 253 274
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5 11 0 .313 241 259
NFC West
Team W L T PCT PF PA
y-Los Angeles Rams 12 4 0 .750 316 245
x-Atlanta Falcons 9 7 0 .563 240 290
New Orleans Saints 7 9 0 .438 281 298
San Francisco 49ers 2 14 0 .125 219 350


Tiebreakers[edit]

  • New England finished ahead of Miami in the AFC East based on better division record (6–2 to Dolphins' 5–3).
  • Buffalo finished ahead of Baltimore in the AFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
  • Oakland, Seattle, and San Diego finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, respectively, in the AFC West based on better record against common opponents[2] (6–2 to Seahawks' 5–3 and Chargers' 4–4).
  • Minnesota finished ahead of Green Bay in the NFC Central based on better head-to-head record (1–0–1).
  • Los Angeles was top NFC seed over Dallas based on better head-to-head record (1–0).
  • Detroit finished ahead of Chicago in the NFC Central based on better division record (4–4 to Bears' 3–5).
  • Atlanta was the first NFC Wild Card based on better conference record than Philadelphia (8–4 to Eagles' 6–6).
  • St. Louis finished ahead of N.Y. Giants in the NFC East based on better division record (3–5 to Giants' 2–6).

Playoffs[edit]

*Note: Two teams from the same division were not allowed to play against each other in the Divisional playoff round.
                                   
Divisional Playoffs
    December 31 – Foxboro Stadium        
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship
 5  Houston  31
December 24 – Miami Orange Bowl     January 7 – Three Rivers Stadium
 2*  New England  14  
 5  Houston  17  5  Houston  5
December 30 – Three Rivers Stadium
 4  Miami  9      1  Pittsburgh  34   Super Bowl XIII
 3  Denver  10
    January 21 – Miami Orange Bowl
 1*  Pittsburgh  33  
 A1  Pittsburgh  35
December 30 – Texas Stadium
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship    N2  Dallas  31
 4  Atlanta  20
December 24 – Atlanta Fulton County Stadium     January 7 – L.A. Memorial Coliseum
 2*  Dallas  27  
 5  Philadelphia  13  2  Dallas  28
December 31 – L.A. Memorial Coliseum
 4  Atlanta  14      1  L.A. Rams  0  
 3  Minnesota  10
   
 1*  L.A. Rams  34  


Awards[edit]

Most Valuable Player Terry Bradshaw, Quarterback, Pittsburgh
Coach of the Year Jack Patera, Seattle
Offensive Player of the Year Earl Campbell, Running Back, Houston Oilers
Defensive Player of the Year Randy Gradishar, Linebacker, Denver
Offensive Rookie of the Year Earl Campbell, Running Back, Houston Oilers
Defensive Rookie of the Year Al Baker, Defensive End, Detroit Lions

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pro-Football-Reference.com: NFL Season By Season Scoring Summary, teams averaged 16.2 points per game in 1942.
  2. ^ "Past NFL standings". NFL. Retrieved December 28, 2012. "Oakland finished ahead of Seattle and San Diego based on common opponents"