1976 NFL season
|Duration||September 12 – December 12, 1976|
|Start date||December 18, 1976|
|AFC Champions||Oakland Raiders|
|NFC Champions||Minnesota Vikings|
|Super Bowl XI|
|Date||January 9, 1977|
|Site||Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California|
|Date||January 17, 1977|
The 1976 NFL season was the 57th regular season of the National Football League. The year 1976 was also the Bicentennial of the United States although the NFL did not issue its own Bicentennial patch. The Dallas Cowboys did modify their helmet (red, white and blue stripes) to honor the year, and were the only NFL team to recognize the Bicentennial.
The league expanded to 28 teams with the addition of the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This fulfilled one of the conditions agreed to in 1966 for the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger, which called for the league to expand to 28 teams by 1970 or soon thereafter.
For this season only, the Seahawks played in the NFC West while the Buccaneers played in the AFC West. The Seahawks would return to the NFC West with the realignment prior to the 2002 season. The Buccaneers would set a record of futility, becoming the first NFL team to finish a season 0–14. The Buccaneers would go on to lose their first 26 games as a franchise before finally winning against the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Cardinals to finish the 1977 season.
The New York Giants finally opened their new stadium Giants Stadium after spending 2 seasons at the Yale Bowl and one season at Shea Stadium.
Major rule changes
- A play clock is placed at each end of the stadium, visible to both players and fans to note the official time between the ready-for-play signal and the snap of the ball.
- If the defensive team commits a foul during a failed extra point attempt, the try is replayed and the offensive team has the option to either have the distance penalty assessed on the next try or the ensuing kickoff.
- If the defensive team commits a foul during a successful extra point attempt, the penalty will be assessed on the ensuing kickoff.
- Players cannot grasp the facemask of an opponent. The penalty for an incidental grasp of the facemask is 5 yards. The penalty for twisting, turning, or pulling the facemask is 15 yards. A player can be ejected from the game if the foul is judged to be vicious and/or flagrant.
- A defender is prohibited from running or diving into, or throwing his body against or on a ballcarrier who falls or slips to the ground untouched and makes no attempt to advance, before or after the ball is dead. This is sometimes called as the "Ben Davidson Rule" after the Raiders defender who almost seriously injured quarterback Len Dawson after the Chiefs passer fell to the ground and made no attempt to advance during a 1970 game.
- The official coin toss was moved to three minutes before kickoff. From 1947 through 1975, the official coin toss was held 30 minutes prior to kickoff, and a simulated coin toss was held at midfield three minutes prior to kickoff to inform the fans and media of the outcome of the toss.
The two expansion clubs, Tampa Bay and Seattle, were "swing" teams that didn't participate in regular conference play. Every other NFL team played a home-and-away series against the other members in its division, two or three interconference games, and the remainder of their 14-game schedule against other conference teams. As a member of the AFC in 1976, Tampa Bay played the other 13 members of the conference, while Seattle did the same in the NFC. The 14th game, played in Week Six, was Seattle's 13–10 win at Tampa.
Starting in 1970, and until 2002, there were three divisions (East, Central and West) in each conference. The winners of each division, and a fourth "wild card" team based on the best non-division winner, qualified for the playoffs. The tiebreaker rules were changed to start with head-to-head competition, followed by division records, common opponents' records, and conference play.
National Football Conference
|1||3 teams||1–0–0||Chicago, Minnesota||1–0–0||Los Angeles, San Francisco||1–0–0||4 teams||1–0–0|
|2||3 teams||2–0–0||Chicago||2–0–0||Los Angeles||1–0–1||2 teams||2–0–0|
|3||Dallas, Washington||3–0–0||Minnesota||2–0–1||Los Angeles||2–0–1||Dallas, Washington||3–0–0|
|4||Dallas||4–0–0||Minnesota||3–0–1||Los Angeles||3–0–1||St. Louis*||3–1–0|
|5||Dallas||5–0–0||Minnesota||4–0–1||San Francisco||4–1–0||St. Louis||4–1–0|
|6||St. Louis*||5–1–0||Minnesota||5–0–1||San Francisco||5–1–0||Dallas||5–1–0|
|7||Dallas||6–1–0||Minnesota||6–0–1||San Francisco||6–1–0||Los Angeles||5–1–1|
|8||Dallas||7–1–0||Minnesota||6–1–1||Los Angeles||6–1–1||St. Louis*||6–2–0|
|9||Dallas||8–1–0||Minnesota||7–1–1||Los Angeles||6–2–1||St. Louis||7–2–0|
|10||Dallas||9–1–0||Minnesota||8–1–1||Los Angeles||6–3–1||St. Louis||8–2–0|
|11||Dallas||9–2–0||Minnesota||9–1–1||Los Angeles||7–3–1||St. Louis||8–3–0|
American Football Conference
|1||Baltimore, Miami||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0||Oakland, San Diego||1–0–0||4 teams||1–0–0|
|2||Baltimore||2–0–0||Houston||2–0–0||Denver, Oakland||2–0–0||2 teams||2–0–0|
|3||Miami*||2–1–0||Houston*||2–1–0||Oakland, San Diego||3–0–0||5 teams||2–1–0|
|4||Baltimore*||3–1–0||Cincinnati*||3–1–0||Denver, Oakland||3–1–0||3 teams*||3–1–0|
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT = Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
wild card berth, – clinched division title– clinched
|x-New England Patriots||11||3||0||.786||376||236|
|New York Jets||3||11||0||.214||169||383|
|San Diego Chargers||6||8||0||.429||248||285|
|Kansas City Chiefs||5||9||0||.357||290||376|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0||14||0||.000||125||412|
|St. Louis Cardinals||10||4||0||.714||309||267|
|New York Giants||3||11||0||.214||170||250|
|Green Bay Packers||5||9||0||.357||218||299|
|y-Los Angeles Rams||10||3||1||.750||351||190|
|San Francisco 49ers||8||6||0||.571||270||190|
|New Orleans Saints||4||10||0||.286||253||346|
- Baltimore finished ahead of New England in the AFC East based on better division record (7–1 to Patriots' 6–2).
- Pittsburgh finished ahead of Cincinnati in the AFC Central based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
- Washington finished ahead of St. Louis in the NFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
- Atlanta finished ahead of New Orleans in the NFC West based on better division record (2–4 to Saints' 1–5).
|Divisional Playoffs||Conf. Championship Games||Super Bowl XI|
|December 19 – Memorial Stadium|
|December 26 – Oakland Coliseum|
|December 18 – Oakland Coliseum|
|4) New England||21|
|January 9 – Rose Bowl|
|December 19 – Texas Stadium|
|3) Los Angeles||14|
|December 26 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|3) Los Angeles||13|
|December 18 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|Most Valuable Player||Bert Jones, Quarterback, Baltimore Colts|
|Coach of the Year||Forrest Gregg, Cleveland Browns|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Bert Jones, Quarterback, Baltimore Colts|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Jack Lambert, Linebacker, Pittsburgh|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Sammy White, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Mike Haynes, Cornerback, New England|
- "Cowboys have the quirkiest uniform set in all of sports". ESPN. October 26, 2007. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- NFL History 1971–1980 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)