|Duration||September 19 – December 19, 1971|
|Start date||December 25, 1971|
|AFC Champions||Miami Dolphins|
|NFC Champions||Dallas Cowboys|
|Super Bowl VI|
|Date||January 16, 1972|
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Date||January 23, 1972|
|Site||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
The 1971 NFL season was the 52nd regular season of the National Football League. The season ended with Super Bowl VI when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Miami Dolphins 24–3 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. The Pro Bowl took place on January 23, 1972, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; the NFC beat the AFC 26–13.
The 1971 NFL Draft was held from January 28 to 29, 1971 at New York City's Belmont Plaza Hotel. With the first pick, the New England Patriots selected quarterback Jim Plunkett from Stanford University.
Three referees--Walt Fitzgerald, Bob Finley and George Rennix--retired following the 1970 season. Bob Frederic, Dick Jorgensen and Fred Wyant were promoted to fill those vacancies. Rich Eichhorst, a back judge in 1970, resigned to concentrate on officiating college basketball; he was replaced by Don Orr, who officiated in the league through 1995.
Major rule changes
- Teams will not be charged a time out for an injured player unless the injury occurs inside the last two minutes of a half or overtime (since 1974).
- Missed field goal attempts can be run back.
Starting in 1970, and until 2002, there were three divisions (Eastern, Central and Western) 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, record against common opponents, and records in conference play. More tiebreakers were provided in 1971 because, in 1970, reversing just one game’s outcome would have led to a coin toss between Dallas and Detroit for the NFC wild card berth.
National Football Conference
|1||3 teams||1–0–0||2 teams||1–0–0||2 teams||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0|
|2||2 teams||2–0–0||Chicago||2–0–0||Atlanta||1–0–1||2 teams||2–0–0|
|3||Washington||3–0–0||4 teams||2–1–0||San Francisco||2–1–0||5 teams||2–1–0|
|4||Washington||4–0–0||Chicago*||3–1–0||Los Angeles||2–1–1||3 teams||3–1–0|
|6||Washington||5–1–0||Minnesota||5–1–0||Los Angeles||4–1–1||4 teams||4–2–0|
American Football Conference
|1||2 teams||1–0–0||2 teams||1–0–0||San Diego||1–0–0||2 teams||1–0–0|
Note: Tie games were not officially counted in the standings until 1972.
- New England finished ahead of N.Y. Jets in the AFC East based on better point differential in head to head games, 13 points.
- Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation of division winners. Had the playoffs been seeded, the divisional round matchups would have been #3 Cleveland at #2 Miami and #4 wild card Baltimore at #1 Kansas City in the AFC; #4 wild card Washington at #1 Minnesota and #3 San Francisco at #2 Dallas in the NFC.
|Dec. 26 – Candlestick Park|
|Jan. 2 – Texas Stadium|
|Dec. 25 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|Jan. 16 – Tulane Stadium|
|Dec. 26 – Cleveland Stadium|
|Super Bowl VI|
|Jan. 2 – Miami Orange Bowl|
|Dec. 25 – Municipal Stadium|
|Most Valuable Player||Alan Page, Defensive tackle, Minnesota|
|Coach of the Year||George Allen, Washington|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Alan Page, Defensive tackle, Minnesota|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||John Brockington, Running back, Green Bay|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Isiah Robertson, Linebacker, Los Angeles|
- Buffalo Bills: John Rauch resigned and was replaced by Harvey Johnson, who previously served as the team's interim head coach in 1968.
- Cleveland Browns: Blanton Collier resigned and was replaced by Nick Skorich.
- Green Bay Packers: Phil Bengtson was fired and replaced by Dan Devine.
- Houston Oilers: Wally Lemm resigned and was replaced by Ed Hughes.
- Los Angeles Rams: Tommy Prothro became the Rams' new head coach after George Allen left the team.
- New England Patriots: John Mazur began his first full season as Patriots head coach. He replaced Clive Rush after seven games into the 1970 season due to medical reasons.
- New Orleans Saints: J. D. Roberts began his first full season as Saints head coach. He replaced Tom Fears, who was fired after a 1-5-1 start in 1970.
- St. Louis Cardinals: Bob Hollway replaced Charley Winner.
- San Diego Chargers: Sid Gillman returned to the field after sitting out half of the 1969 season and all of the 1970 season due to poor health.
- Washington Redskins: George Allen was named as Washington's head coach. Vince Lombardi was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late June before the 1970 season, dying on September 3. Offensive line coach Bill Austin served as Washington's head coach for 1970.
- Denver Broncos: Lou Saban left the team after a 2–6–1 start. Offensive line coach Jerry Smith served as interim for the remaining five games.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Jerry Williams was fired after three games. Ed Khayat was named as replacement.
- San Diego Chargers: Sid Gillman again left the field after serving as head coach for 10 games. Harland Svare replaced Gilman.
- Before the season, the Boston Patriots changed their name to “New England Patriots” after they moved from Harvard Stadium in Boston to their new home field, Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
- The Chicago Bears moved their home games from Wrigley Field to Soldier Field.
- The Philadelphia Eagles moved their games from Franklin Field to Veterans Stadium.
- The San Francisco 49ers moved from Kezar Stadium into Candlestick Park.
- The Dallas Cowboys moved after their first two regular season home games from the Cotton Bowl to Texas Stadium.
- 11 teams played their home games on artificial turf in 1971. This was up from 7 teams in the NFL in 1970. The teams were: Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Francisco.
- The Atlanta Falcons switched their primary jerseys from black to red
- The Chicago Bears adopted a second white jersey with block numbers
- The Oakland Raiders switched from silver to black numbers on their white jerseys