1996 NFL season
|Duration||September 1 – December 23, 1996|
|Start date||December 28, 1996|
|AFC Champions||New England Patriots|
|NFC Champions||Green Bay Packers|
|Super Bowl XXXI|
|Date||January 26, 1997|
|Site||Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Champions||Green Bay Packers|
|Date||February 2, 1997|
The 1996 NFL season was the 77th regular season of the National Football League and the season was marked by notable controversies from beginning to end. The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35-21 at the Louisiana Superdome.
When Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, wanted to relocate his team to Baltimore in a surprise move first reported on by the Boston Globe on November 4, 1995, the ensuing press furor and public relations mess forced the league to intercede and make an agreement with him and the Cities of Cleveland and Baltimore before the new season had barely begun. In the belated agreement, the name, colors and history of the Browns were to remain in Cleveland, while the relocated club would technically be a new league franchise; the city of Cleveland would be given another new franchise in the next few years, or a relocated existing franchise. Either way, the beloved Cleveland Browns would continue, while the Baltimore Ravens began their new history when the 1996 season started.
The season was also the final season for the Houston Oilers before leaving Texas for Memphis for the following season, and then to Nashville in 1998. This move left Houston with no professional football team until the 2002 debut of the Texans.
One of the most memorable aspects of the 1996 season was that the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, each in just their second year of existence, both advanced to their respective conference championship games. 1996 marked the third year the NFL salary cap was in force and also marked the end of a domination era in the NFL as it was the first season since 1991 (and only the second since 1987) in which neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the San Francisco 49ers played in the NFC Championship Game.
The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots in a game ultimately decided when a third-quarter kick-off was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Packers' kick returner, Desmond Howard. For that, and his excellent performance on kick-off and punt returns throughout the game, Howard was named Super Bowl MVP, the only time (as of February 2016) that a special teams player has earned that distinction.
All that was nearly overshadowed by the press feeding frenzy reporting and commenting on the rumor, between the AFC championship game up to and into the broadcast coverage of Super Bowl XXXI itself, that iconic coach Bill Parcells was planning on breaking his contract with the New England Patriots because he did not get along well with owner Robert Kraft, who had helped turn around New England's image after years of ownership that was either dismal or absent. In the event, Parcells did not even return with the players, and telephone records showed he was talking to the Jets in the days before and the day of the Super Bowl itself. This documentary evidence led to the league awarding the Patriots multiple draft picks in compensation for the "tampering" by the Jets, which is but a continuation of one-upmanship that has gone on for years between the heated rivals.
- New Orleans Saints – New numbers on uniforms. On home uniform old gold numbers with white trim, and road uniforms old gold numbers with black trim, similar to team's original jerseys worn from 1967–69, but with a lighter shade of gold. 30th anniversary patch worn on the left chest.
- Philadelphia Eagles – New logo. New uniforms, with "midnight green" color.
- Dallas Cowboys – New color road uniforms.
- Baltimore Ravens – New team in new city. Formerly the Cleveland Browns. Purple jerseys with white numbers trimmed in black and gold at home; white jerseys with black numbers trimmed in purple and gold on the road. Black pants worn with both jerseys.
- San Francisco 49ers – New uniforms. Darker red, white pants, and updated team logo. 50th season logo on uniform.
- Minnesota Vikings – Changes in uniforms. Vikings logo on sleeve ends of home uniforms. Added yellow trim to numbers.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tony Dungy new head coach. Replaced Sam Wyche who was fired after the 1995 season.
- Miami Dolphins – Jimmy Johnson new head coach. Replaced Don Shula who retired after the 1995 season.
- Indianapolis Colts – Lindy Infante new head coach. Replaced Ted Marchibroda who was offered a job from the Baltimore Ravens.
- Cincinnati Bengals – Dave Shula was fired by mid season and was replaced by interim head coach Bruce Coslet.
- New Orleans Saints – Jim Mora resigned at mid season and was replaced by interim head coach Rick Venturi.
- Baltimore Ravens – Ted Marchibroda new head coach. Replaced Bill Belichick who was fired in the 1995 season in the Cleveland Browns era.
Major rule changes
- In order to reduce injuries, hits with the helmet or to the head will be personal fouls and subject to fines.
Final regular season standings
W = Wins, L = Losses, PCT = Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
Clinched playoff seeds are marked in parentheses and shaded in green. No ties occurred this season.
|(2) New England Patriots||11||5||.688||418||313|
|(4) Buffalo Bills||10||6||.625||319||266|
|(6) Indianapolis Colts||9||7||.563||317||334|
|New York Jets||1||15||.063||279||454|
|(3) Pittsburgh Steelers||10||6||.625||344||257|
|(5) Jacksonville Jaguars||9||7||.563||325||335|
|(1) Denver Broncos||13||3||.813||391||275|
|Kansas City Chiefs||9||7||.563||297||300|
|San Diego Chargers||8||8||.500||310||376|
|(3) Dallas Cowboys||10||6||.625||286||250|
|(5) Philadelphia Eagles||10||6||.625||363||341|
|New York Giants||6||10||.375||242||297|
|(1) Green Bay Packers||13||3||.813||456||210|
|(6) Minnesota Vikings||9||7||.563||298||315|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6||10||.375||221||293|
|(2) Carolina Panthers||12||4||.750||367||218|
|(4) San Francisco 49ers||12||4||.750||398||257|
|St. Louis Rams||6||10||.375||303||409|
|New Orleans Saints||3||13||.188||229||339|
- Jacksonville was the second AFC Wild Card ahead of Indianapolis and Kansas City based on better conference record (7–5 to Colts' 6–6 and Chiefs' 5–7).
- Indianapolis was the third AFC Wild Card based on head-to-head victory over Kansas City (1–0).
- Cincinnati finished ahead of Houston in the AFC Central based on better net division points (19 to Oilers' 11).
- Oakland finished ahead of Seattle in the AFC West based on better division record (3–5 to Seahawks' 2–6).
- Dallas finished ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East based on better record against common opponents (8–5 to Eagles' 7–6).
- Minnesota was the third NFC Wild Card based on better conference record than Washington (8–4 to Redskins' 6–6).
- Carolina finished ahead of San Francisco in the NFC West based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
- Atlanta finished ahead of New Orleans in the NFC West based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
|Dec. 28 – Rich Stadium||Jan. 4 – Mile High Stadium|
|4||Buffalo||27||Jan. 12 – Foxboro Stadium|
|Dec. 29 – Three Rivers Stadium||5||Jacksonville||6|
|Jan. 5 – Foxboro Stadium|
|3||Pittsburgh||42||Jan. 26 – Louisiana Superdome|
|Wild Card Playoffs|
|Dec. 28 – Texas Stadium||A2||New England||21|
|Jan. 5 – Ericsson Stadium|
|6||Minnesota||15||Super Bowl XXXI|
|3||Dallas||40||Jan. 12 – Lambeau Field|
|Dec. 29 – 3Com Park||2||Carolina||13|
|Jan. 4 – Lambeau Field|
|Points scored||Green Bay Packers (456)|
|Total yards gained||Denver Broncos (5,791)|
|Yards rushing||Denver Broncos (2,362)|
|Yards passing||Jacksonville Jaguars (4,110)|
|Fewest points allowed||Green Bay Packers (210)|
|Fewest total yards allowed||Green Bay Packers (4,156)|
|Fewest rushing yards allowed||Denver Broncos (1,331)|
|Fewest passing yards allowed||Green Bay Packers (2,740)|
|Scoring||John Kasay, Carolina (145 points)|
|Touchdowns||Terry Allen, Washington (21 TDs)|
|Most field goals made||John Kasay, Carolina (37 FGs)|
|Rushing||Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,553 yards)|
|Passing||Steve Young, San Francisco (97.2 rating)|
|Passing touchdowns||Brett Favre, Green Bay (39 TDs)|
|Pass receiving||Jerry Rice, San Francisco (108 catches)|
|Pass receiving yards||Isaac Bruce, St. Louis (1,338)|
|Punt returns||Desmond Howard, Green Bay (15.1 average yards)|
|Kickoff returns||Michael Bates, Carolina (30.2 average yards)|
|Interceptions||Tyrone Braxton, Denver and Keith Lyle, St. Louis (9)|
|Punting||John Kidd, Miami (46.3 average yards)|
|Sacks||Kevin Greene, Carolina (14.5)|
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- NFL History 1991–2000 (Last accessed October 17, 2005)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- Steelers Fever – History of NFL Rules (Last accessed October 17, 2005)