|Duration||September 2 –|
December 18, 1978
|Start date||December 24, 1978|
|AFC Champions||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|NFC Champions||Dallas Cowboys|
|Super Bowl XIII|
|Date||January 21, 1979|
|Site||Orange Bowl, Miami|
|Date||January 29, 1979|
|Site||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
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 games, which it remained in place until 2021 when it was increased to 17 games. Furthermore, the playoff format was expanded from 8 teams to 10 teams by adding another wild card from each conference. The wild card teams played 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 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
The average salary for a player in 1978 was under $62,600, up 13.2 percent over the previous year. Fran Tarkenton was the highest-paid quarterback at $360,000 and running back O. J. Simpson was the highest paid player, at just under $733,400.
The 1978 NFL Draft was held from May 2 to 3 at New York City's Roosevelt Hotel. With the first pick, the Houston Oilers selected running back Earl Campbell of Texas, the Heisman Trophy winner.
Future referees Tom Dooley, Dale Hamer and Dick Hantak were among those entering the league. Bernie Ulman, the head linesman for Super Bowl I and referee for Super Bowl IX, retired prior to the season, which left the NFL with only 14 crews for the 1978 season. Dooley (103), Hamer (104) and Hantak (105) were among the first officials to wear triple-digit numbers, joined by Bob Boylston (101), Gene Carrabine (102), Al Jury (106), Jim Kearney (107), Bob McLaughlin (108), Sid Semon (109), and Jim Osborne (110).
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 1942.
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. A change was also made to non-divisional opponents in a team's own conference, which became based on divisional positions from the previous season.Previously, teams played rotating groups of opponents in the other conference and in other divisions of their own conference, although some opponents were cut in 1976 and 1977 to allow for games against the Seahawks and Buccaneers. This format remains in effect, though it has been slightly modified over the years, most recently with the addition of two more divisions in 2002.
The interconference matchups for 1978 were as follows:
Starting in 1978, and continuing through 1989 (except 1982), 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.
|1||3 teams||1–0||Chi,GB||1–0||3 teams||1–0|
|Dec. 31 – Schaefer Stadium|
|Dec. 24 – Miami Orange Bowl||Jan. 7 – Three Rivers Stadium|
|Dec. 30 – Three Rivers Stadium|
|Jan. 21 – Miami Orange Bowl|
|Wild Card playoffs||A1||Pittsburgh||35|
|Dec. 30 – Texas Stadium|
|Super Bowl XIII|
|Dec. 24 – Fulton County Stadium||Jan. 7 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
|Dec. 31 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
|Points scored||Dallas Cowboys (384)|
|Total yards gained||New England Patriots (5,965)|
|Yards rushing||New England Patriots (3,165) then NFL record|
|Yards passing||San Diego Chargers (3,375)|
|Fewest points allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (195)|
|Fewest total yards allowed||Los Angeles Rams (3,893)|
|Fewest rushing yards allowed||Dallas Cowboys (1,721)|
|Fewest passing yards allowed||Buffalo Bills (1,960)|
|Scoring||Frank Corral, Los Angeles Rams (118 points)|
|Touchdowns||David Sims, Seattle Seahawks (15 TDs)|
|Most field goals made||Frank Corral, Los Angeles Rams (29 FGs)|
|Rushing attempts||Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (333)|
|Rushing yards||Earl Campbell, Houston Oilers (1,450 yards)|
|Rushing touchdowns||David Sims, Seattle Seahawks (14 TDs)|
|Passes completed||Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings (345)|
|Pass attempts||Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings (572)|
|Passing yards||Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings (3,468 yards)|
|Passer rating||Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys (84.9 rating)|
|Passing touchdowns||Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers (28 TDs)|
|Pass receiving||Rickey Young, Minnesota Vikings (88 catches)|
|Pass receiving yards||Wesley Walker, New York Jets (1,169 yards)|
|Receiving touchdowns||John Jefferson, San Diego Chargers (13 TDs)|
|Punt returns||Rick Upchurch, Denver Broncos (13.7 average yards)|
|Kickoff returns||Steve Odom, Green Bay Packers (27.1 average yards)|
|Interceptions||Thom Darden, Cleveland Browns (10)|
|Punting||Pat McInally, Cincinnati Bengals (43.1 average yards)|
|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|
|Man of the Year||Roger Staubach, Quarterback, Dallas|
|Comeback Player of the Year||John Riggins, Running Back, Washington|
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