1978 NFL season

Last updated

1978 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 2 
December 18, 1978
Start dateDecember 24, 1978
AFC Champions Pittsburgh Steelers
NFC Champions Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl XIII
DateJanuary 21, 1979
Site Orange Bowl, Miami
Champions Pittsburgh Steelers
Pro Bowl
DateJanuary 29, 1979
Site Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
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AFC teams: Yellow ffff00 pog.svg West, DeepPink pog.svg Central, Green pog.svg East
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NFC teams: Yellow ffff00 pog.svg West, DeepPink pog.svg Central, Green pog.svg East
Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini in the 1978 AFC wild card game 1986 Jeno's Pizza - 43 - Dan Pastorini (cropped).jpg
Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini in the 1978 AFC wild card game

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. [1]


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. [2]


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.

New officials

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).

Major rule changes

The league passed major rule changes to encourage offensive scoring. [3] 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. [4]

Regular season

New interconference scheduling

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. [1] [5] 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. [6] 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:

Division races

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.

National Football Conference

13 teams1–0Chi,GB1–03 teams1–0
5Washington5–0G.B.4–1L.A.5–0Chi.3–23 tms3–2
16 Dallas 12–4 Minnesota 8–7–1 Los Angeles 12–4 Atlanta 9–7 Philadelphia 9–7

American Football Conference

1NYJ1–0Cle,Pit1–03 teams1–0
2NYJ2–0Cle,Pit2–04 teams1–1
16 New England 11–5 Pittsburgh 14–2 Denver 10–6 Miami 11–5 Houston 10–6

Final standings



Note: The Pittsburgh Steelers (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Houston Oilers (the 5 seed), nor did the Los Angeles Rams (the NFC 1 seed) play the Atlanta Falcons (the 4 seed), in the Divisional playoff round because those teams were in the same division.
Dec 31 – Schaefer Stadium
Dec 24 – Miami Orange Bowl Jan 7 – Three Rivers Stadium
2* New England 14
5 Houston 175Houston5
Dec 30 – Three Rivers Stadium
4 Miami 91Pittsburgh34
AFC Championship
3 Denver 10
Jan 21 – Miami Orange Bowl
1* Pittsburgh 33
Divisional playoffs
Wild Card playoffsA1Pittsburgh35
Dec 30 – Texas Stadium
Super Bowl XIII
Dec 24 – Fulton County Stadium Jan 7 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
2* Dallas 27
5 Philadelphia 132Dallas28
Dec 31 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
4 Atlanta 141Los Angeles0
NFC Championship
3 Minnesota 10
1* Los Angeles 34

Statistical leaders


Points scoredDallas Cowboys (384)
Total yards gainedNew England Patriots (5,965)
Yards rushingNew England Patriots (3,165) then NFL record
Yards passingSan Diego Chargers (3,375)
Fewest points allowedPittsburgh Steelers (195)
Fewest total yards allowedLos Angeles Rams (3,893)
Fewest rushing yards allowedDallas Cowboys (1,721)
Fewest passing yards allowedBuffalo 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

Coaching changes



Uniform changes

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  1. 1 2 "NFL expands season, increases playoff berths in 1978 changes". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). Associated Press. March 30, 1977. p. 30.
  2. "Who makes the money". Eugene Register-Guard. Oregon. wire services. February 9, 1979. p. 2C.
  3. 1 2 "NFL Moves to Protect Passer, Open Offenses". Toledo Blade. AP. March 15, 1978. p. 37.
  4. Pro-Football-Reference.com: NFL Season By Season Scoring Summary, teams averaged 16.2 points per game in 1942.
  5. Urena, Ivan; Pro Football Schedules: A Complete Historical Guide from 1933 to the Present, pp. 11-13 ISBN   0786473517
  6. Urena; Pro Football Schedules, p. 10
  7. "Past NFL standings" (PDF). NFL. Retrieved December 28, 2012. Oakland finished ahead of Seattle and San Diego based on common opponents