1976 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 12 – December 12, 1976
Playoffs
Start dateDecember 18, 1976
AFC ChampionsOakland Raiders
NFC ChampionsMinnesota Vikings
Super Bowl XI
DateJanuary 9, 1977
SiteRose Bowl, Pasadena, California
ChampionsOakland Raiders
Pro Bowl
DateJanuary 17, 1977
SiteKingdome, Seattle

The 1976 NFL season was the 57th regular season of the National Football League. 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 became the first NFL team to finish a season 0–14. The Buccaneers lost their first 26 games as they also lost their first 12 games in 1977.

The season ended with Super Bowl XI when the Oakland Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32–14 at the Rose Bowl. The Raiders were the first original AFL team to appear and win a Super Bowl in the post-merger era.

Player movement

Draft

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.

Expansion Draft

The 1976 NFL expansion draft was held from March 30 to 31, 1976, with the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers each selecting 39 players from the other 26 NFL teams.

New officials

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).

Another distinguished new official was Bob McElwee, who was promoted to referee in 1980. McElwee was the referee in Super Bowl XXII, Super Bowl XXVIII and Super Bowl XXXIV.

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.

Major rule changes

Division races

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

Week East Central West Wild Card
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
12 Dallas 10–2–0 Minnesota 9–2–1 Los Angeles 8–3–1 Washington* 8–4–0
13 Dallas 11–2–0 Minnesota 10–2–1 Los Angeles 9–3–1 Washington* 9–4–0
14 Dallas 11–3–0 Minnesota 11–2–1 Los Angeles 10–3–1 Washington* 10–4–0

American Football Conference

Week East Central West Wild Card
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
5 Baltimore 4–1–0 Cincinnati* 4–1–0 Oakland 4–1–0 Houston 4–1–0
6 Baltimore 5–1–0 Cincinnati* 4–2–0 Oakland 5–1–0 New England* 4–2–0
7 Baltimore 6–1–0 Cincinnati 5–2–0 Oakland 6–1–0 New England 5–2–0
8 Baltimore 7–1–0 Cincinnati 6–2–0 Oakland 7–1–0 New England 5–3–0
9 Baltimore 8–1–0 Cincinnati 7–2–0 Oakland 8–1–0 New England 6–3–0
10 Baltimore 8–2–0 Cincinnati 8–2–0 Oakland 9–1–0 New England 7–3–0
11 Baltimore 9–2–0 Cincinnati 9–2–0 Oakland 10–1–0 New England 8–3–0
12 Baltimore 10–2–0 Cincinnati 9–3–0 Oakland 11–1–0 New England 9–3–0
13 Baltimore* 10–3–0 Cincinnati* 9–4–0 Oakland 12–1–0 New England* 10–3–0
14 Baltimore* 11–3–0 Pittsburgh* 10–4–0 Oakland 13–1–0 New England 11–3–0

Final standings

Tiebreakers

Playoffs

Main article: 1976–77 NFL playoffs


Dec. 19 – Memorial Stadium
3 Pittsburgh 40
Dec. 26 – Oakland Coliseum
2 Baltimore 14
AFC
3 Pittsburgh 7
Dec. 18 – Oakland Coliseum
1 Oakland 24
AFC Championship
4 New England 21
Jan. 9 – Rose Bowl
1 Oakland 24
Divisional playoffs
A1 Oakland 32
Dec. 19 – Texas Stadium
N1 Minnesota 14
Super Bowl XI
3 Los Angeles 14
Dec. 26 – Metropolitan Stadium
2 Dallas 12
NFC
3 Los Angeles 13
Dec. 18 – Metropolitan Stadium
1 Minnesota 24
NFC Championship
4 Washington 20
1 Minnesota 35


Awards

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

Coaching changes

Offseason

In-season

Stadium changes

Uniform changes

References