|Duration||September 17 – December 17, 1972|
|Start date||December 23, 1972|
|AFC Champions||Miami Dolphins|
|NFC Champions||Washington Redskins|
|Super Bowl VII|
|Date||January 14, 1973|
|Site||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
|Date||January 21, 1973|
|Site||Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas|
The 1972 NFL season was the 53rd regular season of the National Football League. The Miami Dolphins became the first (and to date the only) NFL team to finish a championship season undefeated and untied when they beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
Colts and Rams exchange owners
On July 13, Robert Irsay and Willard Keland bought the Los Angeles Rams from the estate of Dan Reeves and transferred ownership to Carroll Rosenbloom, in exchange for ownership of the Baltimore Colts.
Referee Jack Vest, the referee for Super Bowl II, the 1969 AFL championship game and 1971 AFC championship game, was killed in a June motorcycle accident. Chuck Heberling was promoted from line judge to fill the vacancy and kept Vest's crew intact. Heberling's line judge vacancy was filled by Red Cashion, who was promoted to referee in 1976 and worked in the league through 1996, earning assignment to Super Bowl XX and Super Bowl XXX.
Major rule changes
- The inbounds lines or hashmarks were moved 10.75 ft (3.28 m) closer to the center of the field, to 70.75 ft (21.56 m) from the sidelines. Since the 1945 season, they had been 20 yd (18.29 m) from the sideline [40 ft (12.19 m) apart]. The hashmarks are now 18.5 ft (5.64 m) apart (the same width as the goalposts), cutting down on severe angles for short field goal attempts, and nearly eliminating the short-side fields for the offense.
- With the hashmarks now the same width as the goalposts, a team punting from inside its 15-yard line could snap the ball from a spot even with the marked field numbers instead of the hashmarks to avoid the punt hitting the goalpost.
- Field number markings were standardized across the league, both in size and position.
- Prior to 1972, the Oakland Raiders' field numbers were inside a silver shield, and San Diego Chargers used diamonds to mark numbers.
- The fields for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints had field numbers closer to the sidelines than most stadiums, since they were marked with both NFL and collegiate hash marks.
- Yard lines ending in "5" could not be marked. In 1971, the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants were the last teams to mark yard lines every five yards instead of ten.
- If a legal receiver goes out of bounds, either accidentally or forced out, and returns to touch or catch the pass in bounds, the penalty is a loss of down (but no penalty yardage will be assessed).
- If a punt or missed field goal crosses the receivers' goal line, a member of the receiving team may advance the ball into the field of play. Previously, the ball was dead when a scrimmage kick crossed the goal line and the receivers were awarded an automatic touchback.
- All fouls committed by the offensive team behind the line of scrimmage will be assessed from the previous spot.
- Tie games, previously ignored in computing of winning percentage, were made equal to a half-game win and a half-game loss.
- This was the first season third-down conversions were recorded as an official statistic.
From 1970 through 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||Dallas, St. Louis, Washington||1–0–0||Detroit, Green Bay||1–0–0||Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles||1–0–0||St.L, Wash., Atl., San Fran., Green Bay||1–0–0|
|2||Dallas, Washington||2–0–0||Minnesota||1–1–0||Los Angeles||1–0–1||Dallas, Washington||2–0–0|
|3||Washington||2–1–0||Detroit, Green Bay||2–1–0||Atlanta, San Francisco||2–1–0||3 teams||2–1–0|
|4||Washington||3–1–0||Detroit*||3–1–0||Los Angeles||2–1–1||2 teams||3–1–0|
|5||Washington||4–1–0||Green Bay||4–1–0||Los Angeles||3–1–1||Dallas||4–1–0|
|6||Washington||5–1–0||Green Bay*||4–2–0||Los Angeles||4–1–1||4 teams||4–2–0|
|7||Washington||6–1–0||Green Bay*||4–3–0||Los Angeles||4–2–1||Dallas||5–2–0|
|8||Washington||7–1–0||Green Bay*||5–3–0||Los Angeles||5–2–1||Dallas||6–2–0|
|9||Washington||8–1–0||Green Bay||6–3–0||Los Angeles||5–3–1||Dallas||7–2–0|
|10||Washington||9–1–0||Green Bay||7–3–0||Los Angeles*||5–4–1||Dallas||8–2–0|
|11||Washington||10–1–0||Green Bay*||7–4–0||San Francisco||6–4–1||Dallas||8–3–0|
|13||Washington||11–2–0||Green Bay||9–4–0||San Francisco||7–5–1||Dallas||10–3–0|
|14||Washington||11–3–0||Green Bay||10–4–0||San Francisco||8–5–1||Dallas||10–4–0|
American Football Conference
|1||Miami, NY Jets||1–0–0||Cincinnati, Pittsburgh||1–0–0||Denver||1–0–0||Miami, NY Jets||1–0–0|
|2||Miami, NY Jets||2–0–0||Cincinnati||2–0–0||Oakland, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego||1–1–0||Miami, NY Jets||2–0–0|
|3||Miami||3–0–0||Cleveland||2–1–0||Kansas City||2–1–0||Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cincinnati, NY Jets||2–1–0|
|4||Miami||4–0–0||Cincinnati||3–1–0||Kansas City||3–1–0||San Diego*||2–1–1|
- Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation. Had the playoffs been seeded, the divisional matchups in the AFC would not have changed, but undefeated Miami would have had home field advantage for the AFC championship game. The NFC divisional matchups would have been #4 wild card Dallas, ineligible to play Washington, at #2 Green Bay and #3 San Francisco at #1 Washington.
|Dec. 24 – Miami Orange Bowl|
|Dec. 31 – Three Rivers Stadium|
|Dec. 23 – Three Rivers Stadium|
|Jan. 14 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
|Dec. 23 – Candlestick Park|
|Super Bowl VII|
|Dec. 31 – RFK Stadium|
|Dec. 24 – RFK Stadium|
- Buffalo Bills: After finishing with a 1–13 record in 1971, Harvey Johnson was reassigned to the team's scouting department. Lou Saban then was named as Johnson's replacement, beginning his second stint after serving as the Bills head coach from 1962 to 1965.
- Chicago Bears: Abe Gibron replaced the fired Jim Dooley.
- Denver Broncos: John Ralston joined the Broncos as head coach. Lou Saban left the team after a 2–6–1 start in 1971. Offensive line coach Jerry Smith served as interim for the remaining five games.
- Houston Oilers: Ed Hughes resigned and was replaced by Bill Peterson.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Ed Khayat began his first full season as head coach. He replaced Jerry Williams, who was fired after three games in 1971.
- Baltimore Colts: Don McCafferty was fired after going 1-4 to start the season. John Sandusky was named as replacement.
- New England Patriots: John Mazur resigned after going 2-7 to start the season. Phil Bengtson then served as interim.
- The Kansas City Chiefs moved their home games from Municipal Stadium to Arrowhead Stadium at the Truman Sports Complex and became the twelfth team (of 26) to play its home games on artificial turf.
- The Denver Broncos discontinued wearing orange pants with their white jerseys as they had done from 1968-71. The orange pants returned in 1978 and '79.
- The Detroit Lions added outlines to the jersey numbers
- The Houston Oilers switched from silver to blue helmets. They also discontinued their silver pants in favor of white pants for their blue jerseys, and blue pants for their white jerseys.
- The Washington Redskins switched from gold to burgundy helmets, and from the "R" helmet logo (designed by the late Vince Lombardi) to the Native American head logo.
- "Colts owner trades club for Rams". Milwaukee Sentinel. Associated Press. July 14, 1972. p. 1, part 2.
- "Colts' owner now sole owner of Rams". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. July 14, 1972. p. 12.
- Maule, Tex (August 14, 1972). "Nay on the neighs, yea on the baas". Sports Illustrated. p. 67.
- "Owners give offense big seven-yard boost". Rome News-Tribune. Georgia. Associated Press. March 24, 1972. p. 6A.
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- NFL History 1971–1980 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)