|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.
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 thirty 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.
Due to expansion, the NFL needed a new crew to help handle the weekly workload of 14 games. The most notable new official was Jerry Markbreit, hired as a line judge on the crew of referee Tommy Bell. Bell retired after working the 1976 AFC championship game, and Markbreit was promoted to referee for 1977, where he later became the first (and as of 2018, only) man to serve as the referee for four Super Bowls (XVII, XXI, XXVI and XXIX).
Norm Schachter retired after officiating Super Bowl X, his third after previously serving as crew chief for Super Bowl I and Super Bowl V. Red Cashion and Don Wedge were promoted after each had worked four seasons in the league.
The two expansion clubs, Tampa Bay and Seattle, were “swing” teams that did not 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, records versus common opponents, and records in 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|
- 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).
- New Orleans finished ahead of Atlanta in the NFC West based on better point-differential in head-to-head competition (27 points).
|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 Steelers|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Sammy White, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Mike Haynes, Cornerback, New England Patriots|
|Man of the Year||Franco Harris, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Comeback Player of the Year||Greg Landry, Quarterback, Detroit Lions|
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player||Fred Biletnikoff, Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders|
The 1976 NFL Draft was held from April 8 to 9, 1976 at New York City's Roosevelt Hotel. With the first pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected defensive end Lee Roy Selmon from the University of Oklahoma.
American Football Conference
- Baltimore Colts: Ted Marchibroda
- Buffalo Bills: Lou Saban (5 games) and Jim Ringo (9 games)
- Cincinnati Bengals: Bill Johnson
- Cleveland Browns: Forrest Gregg
- Denver Broncos: John Ralston
- Houston Oilers: Bum Phillips
- Kansas City Chiefs: Paul Wiggin
- Miami Dolphins: Don Shula
- New England Patriots: Chuck Fairbanks
- New York Jets: Lou Holtz (13 games) and Mike Holovak (1 game)
- Oakland Raiders: John Madden
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Chuck Noll
- San Diego Chargers: Tommy Prothro
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: John McKay
National Football Conference
- Atlanta Falcons: Marion Campbell (5 games) and Pat Peppler (9 games)
- Chicago Bears: Jack Pardee
- Dallas Cowboys: Tom Landry
- Detroit Lions: Rick Forzano (4 games) and Tommy Hudspeth (10 games)
- Green Bay Packers: Bart Starr
- Los Angeles Rams: Chuck Knox
- Minnesota Vikings: Bud Grant
- New Orleans Saints: Hank Stram
- New York Giants: Bill Arnsparger (7 games) and John McVay (7 games)
- Philadelphia Eagles: Dick Vermeil
- San Francisco 49ers: Monte Clark
- Seattle Seahawks: Jack Patera
- St. Louis Cardinals: Don Coryell
- Washington Redskins: George Allen
- "Cowboys have the quirkiest uniform set in all of sports". ESPN. October 26, 2007. Retrieved March 10, 2016.