The 1987 NFL season was the 68th regular season of the National Football League. A 24-day players' players' strike was called after week two. The games that were scheduled for the third week of the season were canceled, reducing the 16-game season to 15, but the games for weeks 4–6 were played with replacement players, after which the union voted to end the strike. Eighty-five percent of the veteran players did not cross picket lines during the strike.
The replacement player teams were given mock names like "Chicago Spare Bears", "San Francisco Phoney Niners", "New Orleans Saint Elsewheres", "Washington ScabSkins", and "Seattle Sea-scabs". Final television revenues were down by about 20%, a smaller drop than the networks had expected. The defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants went 0–3 in replacement games, ultimately costing them a chance to make the playoffs and repeat their championship.
Starting on November 8, 1987, ESPN debuted ESPN Sunday Night Football, in which the cable network started to broadcast NFL Sunday night games primarily during the second half of the season.
Due to Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, the Denver Broncos – Minnesota Vikings game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was moved back one day to Monday, October 26.
Chicago Bears star halfback Walter Payton, who had set the NFL career rushing record in 1984, announced the 1987 season would be his last in the NFL. As was the case in the previous season, his Bears finished first in their division but lost in their first playoff game at home. Coincidentally, 1987 was the last year of use for the AstroTurf playing surface that was installed at Soldier Field in 1971; the Bears reinstalled a grass surface the next season.
After the season the St. Louis Cardinals' owners announced they would be leaving Missouri for Tempe, Arizona and become the Phoenix Cardinals for 1988.
The season ended with Super Bowl XXII when the Washington Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos 42-10 in Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. The Broncos made their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance while the Redskins were returning for the first time since they advanced to Super Bowl XVIII four seasons earlier.
Major rule changes
- If a defensive player commits pass interference in his own end zone, the ball is placed at the 1-yard line, or if the previous spot was inside the 2-yard line, the penalty is half the distance to the goal line.
- Except for the first onside kick attempt, if a kickoff goes out of bounds, the receiving team takes possession of the ball 30 yards from the spot of the kick or the spot it went out of bounds.
- In order to stop the clock, the quarterback is permitted to throw the ball out of bounds or to the ground as long as he throws it immediately after receiving the snap.
- During passing plays, an offensive player cannot chop block (block a defender below the thigh while the defensive player is already engaging another offensive player).
- Illegal contact by a defensive player beyond the 5-yard zone from the line of scrimmage will not be called if the offensive team is in an obvious punt formation.
- During kicks and punts, players on the receiving team cannot block below the waist. However, players on the kicking team may block below the waist, but only before the kick is made. On all other plays after a change of possession, no player can block below the waist.
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT = Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
x – clinched wild card berth, y – clinched division title
- New England finished ahead of Miami in the AFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
- Houston was the first AFC Wild Card ahead of Seattle based on better conference record (7–4 to Seahawks' 5–6).
- Chicago was the second NFC playoff seed ahead of Washington based on better conference record (9–2 to Redskins' 9–3).
- Dallas finished ahead of St. Louis and Philadelphia in the NFC East based on better division record (4–4 to Cardinals' 3–5 and Eagles' 3–5).
- St. Louis finished ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East based on better conference record (7–7 to Eagles' 4–7).
- Tampa Bay finished ahead of Detroit in the NFC Central based on better division record (3–4 to Lions' 2–5).
- Home team in capitals
- Wild-Card playoff: HOUSTON 23, Seattle 20 (OT)
- Divisional playoffs: CLEVELAND 38, Indianapolis 21; DENVER 34, Houston 10
- AFC Championship: DENVER 38, Cleveland 33 at Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado January 17, 1988
- Wild-Card playoff: Minnesota 44, NEW ORLEANS 10
- Divisional playoffs: Minnesota 36, SAN FRANCISCO 24; Washington 21, CHICAGO 17
- NFC Championship: WASHINGTON 17, Minnesota 10 at RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. January 17, 1988
- As awarded by the Associated Press
|Most Valuable Player
||John Elway, Quarterback, Denver
|Coach of the Year
||Jim Mora, New Orleans
|Offensive Player of the Year
||Jerry Rice, Wide Receiver, San Francisco
|Defensive Player of the Year
||Reggie White, Defensive End, Philadelphia
|Offensive Rookie of the Year
||Troy Stradford, Running Back, Miami
|Defensive Rookie of the Year
||Shane Conlan, Linebacker, Buffalo
|NFL Comeback Player of the Year
||Charles White, Running Back, L.A. Rams