The 1986 NFL season was the 67th regular season of the National Football League. Defending Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears shared the league’s best record with the Giants at 14–2, with the Giants claiming the spot in the NFC by tiebreakers. In the AFC, the Cleveland Browns earned home-field advantage with a record of 12–4, and they hosted the New York Jets in round one of the AFC playoffs. The Jets had started the season at 10–1 before losing their final five contests. The game went to double OT, with the Browns finally prevailing 23–20. The following Sunday, John Elway and the Denver Broncos defeated the Browns by an identical score in a game known for The Drive, where Elway drove his team 98 yards to send the game to overtime to win. The Giants would defeat their rival Washington Redskins in the NFC title game, blanking them 17–0 to advance to their first Super Bowl. The season ended with Super Bowl XXI when the New York Giants defeated the Denver Broncos 39–20 at the Rose Bowl to win their first league title in 30 years.
Dick Hantak was promoted to referee. Fred Silva was then assigned as a swing official instead of his own crew after suffering a heart attack in the offseason. Chuck Heberling was scheduled to be an instant replay official, but was asked to remain on the field following Silva's heart attack. Herberling earned assignment to the AFC championship.
Players are prohibited from wearing apparel, equipment, or other items that carry commercial names, names of organizations, or any type of personal message unless they get specific permission from the league.
If the offensive team commits a dead ball foul during the last two minutes of a half, the clock will start at the snap.
If an offensive player fumbles the ball and it goes forward and out of bounds, the ball is returned to that team at the spot of the fumble.
If an offensive player fumbles the ball in the field of play and it goes out of bounds in the opponent's end zone, the ball is given to the defensive team at the spot of the fumble (this rule would be changed in 1991 to result in a touchback).
A limited system of instant replay was adopted to aid officiating. A replay official in a booth would decide what plays to review and make the final ruling, regardless of the current score or the amount of time left in the game. The replay official communicated with the game officials via radio transmitters. However, there was no time limit on how long the replay official could review a play and this led to long game delays (this was a major reason why the system was eventually repealed in 1992 and not brought back until a more comprehensive replay system with time limits were established in 1999).
Buffalo Bills: Hank Bullough was fired after 9 games into the season. Marv Levy was named as Bullough's replacement. Levy, the former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs (1978–1982) and the USFL's Chicago Blitz (1984), was out of coaching since his stint with the Blitz when the Bills hired him. Levy went on to lead the Bills through 1997, with four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1990-93.
The Buffalo Bills began wearing their white pants with their white jerseys, discontinuing their blue pants. This was the first time the Bills wore white pants with their white jerseys since 1972.
The New Orleans Saints switched to gold pants, discontinuing both their black and white pants. A secondary logo featuring a fleur-de-lis inside an outline of the state of Louisiana was added to both the jersey sleeves and the sides of the pants. The Saints retained this look through 1995.