|Duration||September 9, 2004 – January 2, 2005|
|Start date||January 8, 2005|
|AFC Champions||New England Patriots|
|NFC Champions||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Super Bowl XXXIX|
|Date||February 6, 2005|
|Site||ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida|
|Champions||New England Patriots|
|Date||February 13, 2005|
With the New England Patriots as the defending league champions, regular season play was held from September 9, 2004 to January 2, 2005. Hurricanes forced the rescheduling of two Miami Dolphins home games: the game against the Tennessee Titans was moved up one day to Saturday, September 11 to avoid oncoming Hurricane Ivan, while the game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, September 26 was moved back 7½ hours to miss the eye of Hurricane Jeanne.
The playoffs began on January 8, and eventually New England repeated as NFL champions when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 24–21 in Super Bowl XXXIX, the Super Bowl championship game, at ALLTEL Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida on February 6.
- February 24, 2004, Washington released Bruce Smith, the NFL's all-time sack leader, saving $6.5 million in salary cap space.
The 2004 NFL Draft was held from April 24 to 25, 2004 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the San Diego Chargers selected quarterback Eli Manning from the University of Mississippi.
Midway through the season, Johnny Grier, the NFL's first African-American referee, suffered a leg injury that forced him to retire. He was permanently replaced by the back judge on his crew, Scott Green, who had previous experience as a referee in NFL Europe.
Major rule changes
- Due to several incidents during the 2003 NFL season, officials are authorized to penalize excessive celebration. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty will be marked off from the spot at the end of the previous play or, after a score, on the ensuing kickoff. If the infraction is ruled flagrant by the officials, the player(s) are ejected.
- Officials are instructed to strictly enforce illegal contact, pass interference, and defensive holding.
- Timeouts can be called by head coaches.
- The league's jersey numbering system was modified to allow wide receivers wear numbers 10–19, in addition to 80–89.
- A punt or missed field goal that is untouched by the receiving team is immediately dead once it touches either the end zone or any member of the kicking team in the end zone. Previously, a punt or missed field goal that lands in the end zone before being controlled by the kicking team could be picked up by a member of the receiving team and immediately run the other way.
- Teams will be awarded a third instant replay challenge if their first two are successful. Previously, teams were only limited to two regardless of what occurred during the game.
- The one-bar facemask was officially outlawed. The few remaining players who still used the one-bar facemask at the time were allowed to continue to use the style until they left the league under a grandfather clause.
- Pat Tillman former safety for the Arizona Cardinals was killed during a friendly fire incident during the war in Afghanistan
- Reggie White former defensive end for the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Carolina Panthers unexpectedly died on December 26, 2004 just seven days after his 43rd birthday from complications of sleep apnea
Final regular season standings
- Indianapolis clinched the AFC #3 seed instead of San Diego based on better head-to-head record (1–0).
- N.Y. Jets clinched the AFC #5 seed instead of Denver based on better record in common games (5–0 to 3–2).
- St. Louis clinched the NFC #5 seed instead of Minnesota or New Orleans based on better conference record (7–5 to Minnesota's 5–7 to New Orleans' 6–6).
- Minnesota clinched the NFC #6 seed instead of New Orleans based on better head-to-head record (1–0).
- N.Y. Giants finished ahead of Dallas and Washington in the NFC East based on better head-to-head record (3–1 to Dallas' 2–2 to Washington's 1–3).
- Dallas finished ahead of Washington in the NFC East based on better head-to-head record (2–0).
Within each conference, the four division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The four division winners are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams are seeded 5 and 6. The NFL does not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there are no restrictions regarding teams from the same division matching up in any round. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the third-seeded division winner hosts the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosts the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then receive a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosts the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5, or 6), while the number 2 seed will play the other team (seed 3, 4, or 5). The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, is played at a neutral site, the designated home team is based on an annual rotation by conference.
|1||Pittsburgh Steelers (North winner)||Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)|
|2||New England Patriots (East winner)||Atlanta Falcons (South winner)|
|3||Indianapolis Colts (South winner)||Green Bay Packers (North winner)|
|4||San Diego Chargers (West winner)||Seattle Seahawks (West winner)|
|5||New York Jets (wild card)||St. Louis Rams (wild card)|
|6||Denver Broncos (wild card)||Minnesota Vikings (wild card)|
|Jan. 9 – RCA Dome||Jan. 16 – Gillette Stadium|
|3||Indianapolis||49||Jan. 23 – Heinz Field|
|Jan. 8 – Qualcomm Stadium||2||New England||41|
|Jan. 15 – Heinz Field|
|5||NY Jets||20*||AFC Championship|
|4||San Diego||17||Feb. 6 – Alltel Stadium|
|Wild Card playoffs|
|Jan. 8 – Qwest Field||A2||New England||24|
|Jan. 15 – Georgia Dome|
|5||St. Louis||27||Super Bowl XXXIX|
|4||Seattle||20||Jan. 23 – Lincoln Financial Field|
|Jan. 9 – Lambeau Field||2||Atlanta||10|
|Jan. 16 – Lincoln Financial Field|
- * Indicates overtime victory
The following teams and players set all-time NFL records during the season:
|Record||Player/Team||Date/Opponent||Previous Record Holder|
|Longest Interception Return||Ed Reed, Baltimore (106 yards)||November 7, vs Cleveland||Tied by 2 players (103)|
|Most Touchdown Passes, Season||Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (49)||N/A||Dan Marino, Miami, 1984 (48)|
|Highest Passer Rating, Season||Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (121.1)||Steve Young, San Francisco, 1994 (112.8)|
|Most Interception Return Yards Gained, Season||Ed Reed, Baltimore (358)||Charlie McNeil, San Diego, 1961 (349)|
|Most First Downs by a Team, Season||Kansas City (398)||Miami, 1994 (387)|
|Most Consecutive Games Won||New England (21)||October 24, vs. N.Y. Jets||Chicago, 1933–34 (17)|
|Most Passing Touchdowns by a Team, Season||Indianapolis (51)||N/A||Miami, 1984 (49)|
The Colts led the NFL with 522 points scored. The Colts tallied more points in the first half of each of their games of the 2004 NFL season (277 points) than seven other NFL teams managed in the entire season. Despite throwing for 49 touchdown passes, Peyton Manning attempted fewer than 500 passes for the first time in his NFL career. The San Francisco 49ers record 420 consecutive scoring games that had started in Week 5 of the 1977 season ended in Week 2 of the season.
|Points scored||Indianapolis Colts (522)|
|Total yards gained||Kansas City Chiefs (6,695)|
|Yards rushing||Atlanta Falcons (2,672)|
|Yards passing||Indianapolis Colts (4,623)|
|Fewest points allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (251)|
|Fewest total yards allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (4,134)|
|Fewest rushing yards allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (1,299)|
|Fewest passing yards allowed||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2,579)|
|Scoring||Adam Vinatieri, New England (141 points)|
|Touchdowns||Shaun Alexander, Seattle (20 TDs)|
|Most field goals made||Adam Vinatieri, New England (31 FGs)|
|Passing||Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota (4717 yards)|
|Passing Touchdowns||Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (49 TDs)|
|Passer Rating||Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (121.1 rating)|
|Rushing||Curtis Martin, New York Jets (1,697 yards)|
|Rushing Touchdowns||LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego (17 TDs)|
|Receptions||Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City (102)|
|Receiving yards||Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina (1,405)|
|Punt returns||Eddie Drummond, Detroit (13.2 average yards)|
|Kickoff returns||Willie Ponder, New York Giants (26.9 average yards)|
|Interceptions||Ed Reed, Baltimore (9)|
|Punting||Shane Lechler, Oakland (46.7 average yards)|
|Sacks||Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis (16)|
|Most Valuable Player||Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis|
|Coach of the Year||Marty Schottenheimer, San Diego|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Ed Reed, Safety, Baltimore|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Jonathan Vilma, Linebacker, New York Jets|
|NFL Comeback Player of the Year||Drew Brees, Quarterback, San Diego|
|Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year||Warrick Dunn, Running Back, Atlanta|
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player||Deion Branch, Wide Receiver, New England|
- Arizona Cardinals – Dennis Green replaced Dave McGinnis who was fired after the 2003 season
- Atlanta Falcons – Jim L. Mora replaced Wade Phillips who replaced Dan Reeves who was fired during the 2003 season
- Buffalo Bills – Mike Mularkey replaced Gregg Williams who was fired after the 2003 season
- Chicago Bears – Lovie Smith replaced Dick Jauron who was fired after the 2003 season
- Oakland Raiders – Norv Turner replaced Bill Callahan who was fired after the 2003 season
- New York Giants – Tom Coughlin replaced Jim Fassel who was fired after the 2003 season
- Washington Redskins – Joe Gibbs replaced Steve Spurrier who resigned after the 2003 season
- Carolina Panthers: Ericsson Stadium was renamed Bank of America Stadium after Bank of America acquired the naming rights.
- Minnesota Vikings: The AstroTurf at the Metrodome was replaced with a new FieldTurf field.
- Oakland Raiders: Network Associates Coliseum was renamed McAfee Coliseum to reflect naming right holder, Network Associates, changing its name to McAfee.
- San Francisco 49ers: Monster Cable acquired the naming rights to Candlestick Park, renaming it merely to "Monster Park" without any qualifier. This eventually results in confusion among fans who erroneously think the name instead refers to Monster.com or Monster Energy.
- Seattle Seahawks: Seahawks Stadium was renamed Qwest Field after telecommunications carrier Qwest acquired the naming rights.
- The Atlanta Falcons switched the primary and alternate jerseys, making the red ones the primary and the black ones the alternate.
- The Baltimore Ravens added black third alternative uniforms.
- The Cincinnati Bengals introduced new uniforms, featuring black jerseys with orange tiger-striped sleeves, white jerseys with black tiger-striped sleeves, and orange third alternate uniforms. A new logo featuring an orange "B" with black tiger stripes was also unveiled.
- The Chicago Bears added orange third alternate uniforms.
- The Indianapolis Colts switched from blue face masks and white shoes to gray face masks and black shoes
- The Jacksonville Jaguars made modification to their white uniforms, changing the teal number with black and gold trim to black numbers with gold and teal trim. Also introduced were new black pants with the Jaguars logo on hip.
- The New York Giants added red third alternate uniforms.
- The San Diego Chargers returned to navy pants with their white jerseys.
- "Redskins cut four, including Smith". ESPN Sports. February 24, 2004. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
- "An 0–10 start will do that to you". USA Today.
- "Records". 2005 NFL Record and Fact Book. NFL. 2005. ISBN 978-1-932994-36-0.
- Numbelivable!, p.35, Michael X. Ferraro and John Veneziano, Triumph Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2007, ISBN 978-1-57243-990-0
- Numbelivable!, p.146, Michael X. Ferraro and John Veneziano, Triumph Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2007, ISBN 978-1-57243-990-0
- Gardner, Jim (November 28, 2005). "Fans unclear on main Monster in 49ers lineup". San Francisco Business Times.