The 1978 NFL season was a seminal moment in the development of league history, so much so that I would make the case that it’s where the NFL as we understand it today really began. The following changes took place prior to the season…
*The schedule was expanded from 14 games to 16 games
*Two teams were added to the playoffs, moving the field from 8 to 10 and requiring the creation of a “wild-card game” while the three division winners got a week off after the regular season.
*Perhaps most important, new rules were put in place for the first time that limited the amount of contact that could be used against a wide receiver, as the league looked to open up the offenses.
The 16-game schedule, four rounds of playoffs with byes and wide open passing games are accepted facts of life in the NFL today. They all began in 1978.
As the league moved into modernity, the ending of the 1978 season would be defined by its past. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys had each won two Super Bowls at this point, and when they got together in Miami to end this year, it was a fight to be the first to three rings. Pittsburgh won a 35-31 game with fourteen future Hall of Famers on the field and became the NFL’s most decorated franchise of the Super Bowl era.
Pittsburgh and Dallas weren’t the only success stories in the 1978 NFL season. Here’s the rundown on other teams that enjoyed big years….
*The Los Angeles Rams were the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs after a chaotic preseason that saw a coaching change made just prior to the start of the regular season.
*The Houston Oilers drafted the game’s brightest young star in Earl Campbell and made the playoffs for the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Campbell ran a close second to Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw in the MVP race.
*The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos won division titles in the AFC. The Patriots came undone with organizational chaos at the end of the season, while the Broncos survived a tough four-team fight in the West.
*The Minnesota Vikings said goodbye to a legend in quarterback Fran Tarkenton, but not before the future Hall of Fame quarterback pushed his team into the playoffs one more time.
*The Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles each made the playoffs for the first time in the Super Bowl era, with the Falcons winning a thrilling wild-card game and then giving Dallas all they could handle in the divisional round.
*The Miami Dolphins, out of the money in recent years after the early 1970s dominance, made it back to the postseason for head coach Don Shula.
*There were three noteworthy teams that didn’t make the playoffs. The Washington Redskins started 5-0, but faded to 8-8. The Green Bay Packers were riding high at 7-2, but finished at 8-7-1. Over the final two weeks, an otherwise mediocre Chicago Bears team played spoiler and knocked both the ‘Skins and Packers out. And there was no bigger surprise collapse than that suffered by the Oakland Raiders. One of the league’s defining franchises throughout the decade, the Raiders were 8-4 before a three-game skid knocked them out and ended the coaching career of the great John Madden.
These were the relevant teams of the 1978 NFL season. Each team has its own game-by-game narrative published individually on TheSportsNotebook.com. The links are below. Read more about how the 1978 season unfolded, as seen through the eyes of its best teams.
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 HOUSTON OILERS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 DENVER BRONCOS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 MINNESOTA VIKINGS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 ATLANTA FALCONS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 MIAMI DOLPHINS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 WASHINGTON REDSKINS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 GREEN BAY PACKERS
READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 OAKLAND RAIDERS