1988 NFL season

1988 National Football League season
Regular season
Duration September 4 – December 19, 1988
Start date December 24, 1988
AFC Champions Cincinnati Bengals
NFC Champions San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl XXIII
Date January 22, 1989
Site Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Champions San Francisco 49ers
Pro Bowl
Date January 29, 1989
Site Aloha Stadium

The 1988 NFL season was the 69th regular season of the National Football League. The Cardinals relocated from St. Louis, Missouri to the Phoenix, Arizona area becoming the Phoenix Cardinals but remained in the NFC East division. Playoff races came down to the season’s final day, with the Seattle Seahawks winning the AFC West by one game, and the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers winning their respective divisions in a five-way tie, with the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants losing the NFC Wild Card berth to the Los Angeles Rams on tiebreakers.

This season marked the final coaching season for the legendary Tom Landry.

The season ended with Super Bowl XXIII when the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20–16 at the Joe Robbie Stadium in Florida.

Major rule changes

  • A standard system of two time intervals between plays are established (and would be timed using the play clock): For normal plays, the offensive team has 45 seconds to snap the ball after the previous play is signaled dead. After time outs and other administrative stoppages, the time limit is 30 seconds beginning after the Referee signals that the ball is ready to resume play.
  • If a fumble occurs during an extra point attempt, only the fumbling player can recover and/or advance the ball. This change closes a loophole in the "Stabler Fumble Rule" that was enacted during the 1979 NFL season in reaction to the Holy Roller Game.
  • The penalty for "Running into the kicker" is changed from five yards and a first down to just 5 yards.
  • Referees were outfitted with white hats while all other officials wore black hats, which was the standard practice in college and high school football. From 1979 through 1987, referees wore black hats while all other officials wore white hats.

Final standings


  • Cincinnati was the top AFC playoff seed ahead of Buffalo based on head-to-head victory (1–0).
  • Indianapolis finished ahead of New England in the AFC East based on better record against common opponents (7–5 to Patriots’ 6–6).
  • Cleveland finished ahead of Houston in the AFC Central based on better division record (4–2 to Oilers’ 3–3).
  • San Francisco was the second NFC playoff seed ahead of Philadelphia on better record against common opponents (5–3 to Eagles’ 5–4).
  • Philadelphia finished first in the NFC East based on head-to-head sweep of the N.Y. Giants (2–0).
  • Washington finished third in the NFC East based on better division record (4–4) than Phoenix (3–5).
  • Detroit finished fourth in the NFC Central based on head-to-head sweep of Green Bay (2–0).
  • San Francisco finished first in the NFC West based on better head-to-head record (3–1) against the L.A. Rams (2–2) and New Orleans (1–3).
  • The L.A. Rams finished second in the NFC West based on better division record (4–2) than New Orleans (3–3), and earned the last NFC Wild Card based on better conference record (8–4) than the N.Y. Giants (9–5) and New Orleans (6–6).


Divisional Playoffs
    Jan. 1 – Rich Stadium        
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship
 5  Houston  10
Dec. 24 – Cleveland Stadium     Jan. 8 – Riverfront Stadium
 2*  Buffalo  17  
 5  Houston  24  2  Buffalo  10
Dec. 31 – Riverfront Stadium
 4  Cleveland  23      1  Cincinnati  21   Super Bowl XXIII
 3  Seattle  13
    Jan. 22 – Joe Robbie Stadium
 1*  Cincinnati  21  
 A1  Cincinnati  16
Jan. 1 – Candlestick Park
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship    N2  San Francisco  20
 4  Minnesota  9
Dec. 26 – Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome     Jan. 8 – Soldier Field
 2*  San Francisco  34  
 5  LA Rams  17  2  San Francisco  28
Dec. 31 – Soldier Field
 4  Minnesota  28      1  Chicago  3  
 3  Philadelphia  12
 1*  Chicago  20  

Statistical leaders


Points scoredCincinnati Bengals (448)
Total yards gainedCincinnati Bengals (6,057)
Yards rushingCincinnati Bengals (2,710)
Yards passingMiami Dolphins (4,516)
Fewest points allowedChicago Bears (215)
Fewest total yards allowedMinnesota Vikings (4,091)
Fewest rushing yards allowedChicago Bears (1,326)
Fewest passing yards allowedKansas City Chiefs (2,434)


Most Valuable PlayerBoomer Esiason, Quarterback, Cincinnati
Coach of the YearMike Ditka, Chicago
Offensive Player of the YearRoger Craig, Running back, San Francisco
Defensive Player of the YearMike Singletary, Linebacker, Chicago
Offensive Rookie of the YearJohn Stephens, Running back, New England
Defensive Rookie of the YearErik McMillan, Safety, NY Jets
NFL Comeback Player of the YearGreg Bell, Running Back, LA Rams
NFL Man of the YearSteve Largent, Wide Receiver, Seattle
Super Bowl Most Valuable PlayerJerry Rice, Wide Receiver, San Francisco


The 1988 NFL Draft was held from April 24 to 25, 1988 at New York City’s Marriott Marquis. With the first pick, the Atlanta Falcons selected linebacker Aundray Bruce from the University of Auburn.


American Football Conference

National Football Conference


  • NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
  • NFL History 1981–1990 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
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