1970 NFL season

1970 National Football League season
Regular season
Duration September 18 – December 20, 1970
Start date December 26, 1970
AFC Champions Baltimore Colts
NFC Champions Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl V
Date January 17, 1971
Site Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida
Champions Baltimore Colts
Pro Bowl
Date January 24, 1971
Site Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

The 1970 NFL season was the 51st regular season of the National Football League, and the first one after the AFL–NFL merger. The season concluded with Super Bowl V when the Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16–13 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. The Pro Bowl took place on January 24, 1971, where the NFC beat the AFC 27–6 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Merger between NFL and AFL

The merger forced a realignment between the combined league's clubs. Because there were 16 NFL teams and 10 AFL teams, three teams were transferred to balance the two new conferences at 13 teams each. In May 1969, the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join all ten AFL teams to form the American Football Conference (AFC). The remaining NFL teams formed the National Football Conference (NFC).

Replacing the old Eastern and Western conferences (although divisions from those conferences still existed but were renamed to suit the realignment), the new conferences, AFC and NFC, function similar to Major League Baseball's American and National leagues, and each of those two were divided into three divisions: East, Central, and West. The two Eastern divisions had five teams; the other four divisions had four teams each. The realignment discussions for the NFC were so contentious that one final plan, out of five of them was selected from an envelope in a vase by Commissioner Pete Rozelle's secretary, Thelma Elkjer[1] on January 16, 1970.

The format agreed on was as follows:

This arrangement would keep most of the pre-merger NFL teams in the NFC and the AFL teams in the AFC. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore were placed in the AFC in order to balance it out, while the NFC equalized the competitive strength of its East and West divisions rather than sorting out teams just geographically.

Division alignment in 1970 was largely intended to preserve the pre-merger setups, keeping traditional rivals in the same division. Plans were also made to add two expansion teams—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks—but this would not take place until 1976, seven years after the merger.

Former NFL alignment

Prior to 1966, the NFL had two seven-team conferences:

Atlanta was added as an expansion franchise in 1966 and placed in the Eastern Conference. Every team had a bye week during the 1966 season.

When New Orleans was awarded an expansion franchise for 1967, the NFL divided its teams into two eight-team conferences, with two four-team divisions in each conference as follows:

The Giants and Saints swapped divisions in 1968, and then returned to the 1967 alignment in 1969.

Former AFL alignment

Meanwhile, the AFL for entire its 10-year existence had:

Schedule changes

The 26-team league began to use an eight-team playoff format, four from each conference, that included the three division winners and a wild card team, the second-place team with the best record. The season concluded with the Colts defeating the Dallas Cowboys 16–13 in Super Bowl V, the first Super Bowl played for the NFL Championship. The game was held at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and was the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf (specifically, Poly-Turf).

Seven teams played their home games on artificial turf in 1970. This was up from 2 teams in both the NFL and AFL in 1969. The teams were: Cincinnati, Dallas, Miami, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, who joined Houston and Philadelphia, the two teams which played on turf in 1969. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh opened new stadiums: Riverfront Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium.


To televise their games, the combined league retained the services of CBS and NBC, who were previously the primary broadcasters of the NFL and the AFL, respectively. It was then decided that CBS would televise all NFC teams (including playoff games) while NBC all AFC teams. For interconference games, CBS would broadcast them if the visiting team was from the NFC and NBC would carry them when the visitors were from the AFC. At the time, all NFL games were blacked out in the home team's market, so this arrangement meant that fans in each team's home market would see all of their team's televised Sunday afternoon games on the same network (CBS for NFC teams and NBC for AFC teams). The two networks also divided up the Super Bowl on a yearly rotation.

Meanwhile, with the debut of Monday Night Football on ABC September 21, 1970, the league became the first professional sports league in the United States to have a regular series of nationally televised games in prime-time, and the only league ever to have its games televised on all of the then-three major broadcast networks at the same time. Both teams that advanced to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys, had suffered humiliating defeats at home on Monday Night Football during the season. Adding ABC to the list gave the newly merged NFL television coverage on all of the Big Three television networks.


Before the season, the league had demanded that the Chicago Bears find a new home field: Wrigley Field was too small, as it did not meet the new stadium requirement to seat at least 50,000, and it did not have lights installed (and would not install them until 1988), meaning it was unavailable for late afternoon and night games. The Chicago Cubs baseball team, which shared the stadium with the Bears, did not want to convert it to a football configuration while the Cubs were still in playoff contention.

As a result, the Chicago Bears' first home game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles was played at Northwestern University's Dyche Stadium; the Bears also treated this game as a trial run for possibly moving their home games to Evanston.

Dyche Stadium (since renamed Ryan Field), which did not have lights at the time (nor does it have permanent standards today), was planned to make the Bears' new home, but a deal fell through due to strong opposition from several athletic directors in the Big Ten Conference and residents of Evanston. After negotiations with the Cubs' ownership for continued use of Wrigley Field collapsed, the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 where they remain to the present day, save for a temporary relocation in 2002 to the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field was completely renovated.

The Boston Patriots played in their fourth different facility in 11 seasons, leaving Alumni Stadium at Boston College for Harvard Stadium, the only facility in Massachusetts at that time which met the NFL's 50,000-seat minimum. The struggles to find a home led the Patriots to hastily construct Schaeffer Stadium in Foxborough, which opened in 1971. The Patriots, who were renamed from "Boston" to "New England" when they moved, continue to play in Foxborough in Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.


On November 8, New Orleans Saints placekicker Tom Dempsey kicked a record 63-yard field goal. The record stood for 43 years (tied in 1998, 2011 and 2012) until it was broken in 2013 by Denver Broncos' Matt Prater.[2]

The Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, and Los Angeles Rams all started 3–0 but lost in Week Four. Only the Lions would go on to the playoffs after the 3–0 start.

Major rule changes

The NFL rules became the standardized rules for the merged league, with two exceptions that were both carried over from the AFL:

  • The stadium's scoreboard clock became the official game clock.
  • The practice of having the players' last names added to the backs of their jerseys became universal. The old NFL teams did not have names on the back prior to this season, whereas the AFL teams did.

After experimenting with compromise rules regarding the two-point conversion (then exclusive to the AFL) during the late 1960s preseasons, the NFL decided not to use that feature and use its previous rule only allowing one point for any conversion. The two-point conversion would not be added to the NFL rules until 1994.

Division races

Starting in 1970, there were three divisions (Eastern, Central and Western) 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.

The New York Giants lost their last regular-season game. Had they won that game, they would have tied for first place in the NFC East division and taken the division championship on a tie-breaker; then, the tie-breakers would have simply led to a coin toss between Dallas and Detroit for the NFC wild card. Because of this close call regarding possible use of coin toss, future tie-breakers would be expanded to have more competitive aspects.

National Football Conference

Week Eastern Central Western Wild Card
1 Dallas 1–0–0 3 teams 1–0–0 3 teams 1–0–0 4 teams 1–0–0
2 Dallas 2–0–0 3 teams 2–0–0 2 teams 2–0–0 3 teams 2–0–0
3 St. Louis* 2–1–0 Detroit 3–0–0 Los Angeles 3–0–0 6 teams 2–1–0
4 St. Louis* 3–1–0 Detroit* 3–1–0 San Francisco* 3–1–0 4 teams 3–1–0
5 St. Louis 4–1–0 Detroit* 4–1–0 Los Angeles 4–1–0 Minnesota 4–1–0
6 St. Louis* 4–2–0 Detroit* 5–1–0 San Francisco 4–1–1 Minnesota 5–1–0
7 St. Louis* 5–2–0 Minnesota 6–1–0 San Francisco 5–1–1 3 teams 5–2–0
8 St. Louis 6–2–0 Minnesota 7–1–0 San Francisco 6–1–1 Los Angeles 5–2–1
9 St. Louis 7–2–0 Minnesota 8–1–0 San Francisco 7–1–1 N.Y. Giants 6–3–0
10 St. Louis 7–2–1 Minnesota 9–1–0 San Francisco 7–2–1 Los Angeles 6–3–1
11 St. Louis 8–2–1 Minnesota 9–2–0 Los Angeles* 7–3–1 San Francisco 7–3–1
12 St. Louis 8–3–1 Minnesota 10–2–0 Los Angeles* 8–3–1 San Francisco 8–3–1
13 N.Y. Giants* 9–4–0 Minnesota 11–2–0 San Francisco 9–3–1 Dallas* 9–4–0
14 Dallas 10–4–0 Minnesota 12–2–0 San Francisco 10–3–1 Detroit 10–4–0

American Football Conference

Week Eastern Central Western Wild Card
1 2 teams 1–0–0 3 teams 1–0–0 Denver 1–0–0 3 teams 1–0–0
2 4 teams 1–1–0 3 teams 1–1–0 Denver 2–0–0 6 teams 1–1–0
3 Baltimore* 2–1–0 2 teams 2–1–0 Denver 3–0–0 2 teams 2–1–0
4 Baltimore* 3–1–0 Cleveland 3–1–0 Denver 3–1–0 Miami 3–1–0
5 Baltimore* 4–1–0 Cleveland 3–2–0 Denver 4–1–0 Miami 4–1–0
6 Baltimore 5–1–0 Cleveland 4–2–0 Denver 4–2–0 Miami 4–2–0
7 Baltimore 6–1–0 Cleveland 4–3–0 Oakland 3–2–2 Denver 4–3–0
8 Baltimore 7–1–0 Cleveland* 4–4–0 Oakland 4–2–2 Kansas City 4–3–1
9 Baltimore 7–1–1 Cleveland* 4–5–0 Oakland 5–2–2 Kansas City 5–3–1
10 Baltimore 7–2–1 Cleveland 5–5–0 Oakland 6–2–2 Kansas City 5–3–2
11 Baltimore 8–2–1 Cleveland* 5–6–0 Oakland* 6–3–2 Kansas City 6–3–2
12 Baltimore 9–2–1 Cleveland* 6–6–0 Oakland* 7–3–2 Kansas City 7–3–2
13 Baltimore 10–2–1 Cincinnati 7–6–0 Oakland 8–3–2 Miami 9–4–0
14 Baltimore 11–2–1 Cincinnati 8–6–0 Oakland 8–4–2 Miami 10–4–0

Final standings

W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against

 x  – clinched wild card berth,  y  – clinched division title

Note: Prior to 1972, the NFL did not include tie games when calculating a team's winning percentage in the official standings

AFC East
y-Baltimore Colts 1121.846321234
x-Miami Dolphins 1040.714297228
New York Jets 4100.286255286
Buffalo Bills 3101.231204337
Boston Patriots 2120.143149361
AFC Central
y-Cincinnati Bengals 860.571312255
Cleveland Browns 770.500286265
Pittsburgh Steelers 590.357210272
Houston Oilers 3101.231217352
AFC West
y-Oakland Raiders 842.667300293
Kansas City Chiefs 752.583272244
San Diego Chargers 563.455282278
Denver Broncos 581.385253264
NFC East
y-Dallas Cowboys 1040.714299221
New York Giants 950.643301270
St. Louis Cardinals 851.615325228
Washington Redskins 680.429297314
Philadelphia Eagles 3101.231241332
NFC Central
y-Minnesota Vikings 1220.857335143
x-Detroit Lions 1040.714347202
Green Bay Packers 680.429196293
Chicago Bears 680.429256261
NFC West
y-San Francisco 49ers 1031.769352267
Los Angeles Rams 941.692325202
Atlanta Falcons 482.333206261
New Orleans Saints 2111.154172347


  • Green Bay finished ahead of Chicago in the NFC Central based on better division record (2–4 to Bears' 1–5).


Note: Although the home teams in these playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation, the home club coincidentally happened to be the one with the better record in every game. Had the playoffs been seeded, the only difference would have been that the #4 wild card Lions, ineligible to play the Vikings, would have played at the #2 49ers and the #3 Cowboys would have played at the #1 Vikings in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Divisional PlayoffsConf. Championship GamesSuper Bowl V
December 27 – Oakland Coliseum
Miami Dolphins14
January 3 – Memorial Stadium
Oakland Raiders21
Oakland Raiders17
December 26 – Memorial Stadium
Baltimore Colts27
Cincinnati Bengals0
January 17 – Miami Orange Bowl
Baltimore Colts17
Baltimore Colts16
December 26 – Cotton Bowl
Dallas Cowboys13
Detroit Lions0
January 3 – Kezar Stadium
Dallas Cowboys 5
Dallas Cowboys17
December 27 – Metropolitan Stadium
San Francisco 49ers10
San Francisco 49ers 17
Minnesota Vikings14


Most Valuable PlayerJohn Brodie, Quarterback, San Francisco
Coach of the YearDick Nolan, San Francisco
Offensive Rookie of the YearDennis Shaw, Quarterback, Buffalo
Defensive Rookie of the YearBruce Taylor, Cornerback, San Francisco


The 1970 NFL Draft was held from January 27 to 28, 1970 at New York City's Belmont Plaza Hotel. With the first pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected quarterback Terry Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech University.


American Football Conference

National Football Conference


  • NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
  • NFL History 1961–1970 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
  1. Anderson, Dave (February 27, 2000). "Sports of The Times; The Woman Who Aligned the N.F.C. Teams". New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  2. Brinson, Wil. "LOOK: Matt Prater makes NFL record 64-yard field goal". CBSSports.com. CBS. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
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