1996 NFL season

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1996 National Football League season
Regular season
Duration September 1 – December 23, 1996
Start date December 28, 1996
AFC Champions New England Patriots
NFC Champions Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl XXXI
Date January 26, 1997
Site Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Champions Green Bay Packers
Pro Bowl
Date February 2, 1997
Site Aloha Stadium

The 1996 NFL season was the 77th regular season of the National Football League and the season was marked by notable controversies from beginning to end. The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35–21 at the Louisiana Superdome.

Notable events[edit]

When Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, wanted to relocate his team to Baltimore in a surprise move first reported on by the Boston Globe on November 4, 1995, the ensuing press furor and public relations mess forced the league to intercede and make an agreement with him and the Cities of Cleveland and Baltimore before the new season had barely begun. In the belated agreement, the name, colors and history of the Browns were to remain in Cleveland, while the relocated club would technically be a new league franchise; the city of Cleveland would be given another new franchise in the next few years, or a relocated existing franchise. Either way, the beloved Cleveland Browns would continue, while the Baltimore Ravens began their new history when the 1996 season started.

1996 AFC West champion Denver hosts Tampa Bay at Mile High Stadium, September 15, 1996

The season was also the final season for the Houston Oilers before leaving Texas for Memphis for the following season, and then to Nashville in 1998. This move left Houston with no professional football team until the 2002 debut of the Texans.

One of the most memorable aspects of the 1996 season was that the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, each in just their second year of existence, both advanced to their respective conference championship games. 1996 marked the third year the NFL salary cap was in force and also marked the end of a domination era in the NFL as it was the first season since 1991 (and only the second since 1987) in which neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the San Francisco 49ers played in the NFC Championship Game. It was also the first NFC Championship Game ever that did not feature either the Cowboys, 49ers, Washington Redskins, or Los Angeles Rams.

The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots in a game ultimately decided when a third-quarter kick-off was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Packers' kick returner, Desmond Howard. For that, and his excellent performance on kick-off and punt returns throughout the game, Howard was named Super Bowl MVP, the first and only time that a special teams player has earned that distinction.

All that was nearly overshadowed by the press feeding frenzy reporting and commenting on the rumor, between the AFC championship game up to and into the broadcast coverage of Super Bowl XXXI itself, that iconic coach Bill Parcells was planning on breaking his contract with the New England Patriots because he did not get along well with owner Robert Kraft, who had helped turn around New England's image after years of ownership that was either dismal or absent. In the event, Parcells did not even return with the players, and telephone records showed he was talking to the Jets in the days before and the day of the Super Bowl itself. This documentary evidence led to the league awarding the Patriots multiple draft picks in compensation for the "tampering" by the Jets,[1] which is but a continuation of one-upmanship that has gone on for years between the heated rivals.

Uniform changes[edit]

  • New Orleans Saints – New numbers on uniforms. On home uniform old gold numbers with white trim, and road uniforms old gold numbers with black trim, similar to team's original jerseys worn from 1967–69, but with a lighter shade of gold. 30th anniversary patch worn on the left chest.
  • Philadelphia Eagles – New logo. New uniforms, with "midnight green" color.
  • Dallas Cowboys – New color road uniforms.
  • Baltimore Ravens – New team in new city. Formerly the Cleveland Browns. Purple jerseys with white numbers trimmed in black and gold at home; white jerseys with black numbers trimmed in purple and gold on the road. Black pants worn with both jerseys.
  • San Francisco 49ers – New uniforms. Darker red, white pants, and updated team logo. 50th season logo on uniform.
  • Minnesota Vikings – Changes in uniforms. Vikings logo on sleeve ends of home uniforms. Added yellow trim to numbers.
  • Arizona Cardinals - New road jerseys. Black trim removed from numbers, logo removed from sleeves, and Arizona state flag moved above sleeve stripes.

Stadium changes[edit]

Coaching changes[edit]

Major rule changes[edit]

  • In order to reduce injuries, hits with the helmet or to the head will be personal fouls and subject to fines.

Final regular season standings[edit]

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

Clinched playoff seeds are marked in parentheses and shaded in green. No ties occurred this season.

AFC East
(2) New England Patriots 11 5 .688 418 313
(4) Buffalo Bills 10 6 .625 319 266
(6) Indianapolis Colts 9 7 .563 317 334
Miami Dolphins 8 8 .500 339 325
New York Jets 1 15 .063 279 454
AFC Central
(3) Pittsburgh Steelers 10 6 .625 344 257
(5) Jacksonville Jaguars 9 7 .563 325 335
Cincinnati Bengals 8 8 .500 372 369
Houston Oilers 8 8 .500 345 319
Baltimore Ravens 4 12 .250 371 441
AFC West
(1) Denver Broncos 13 3 .813 391 275
Kansas City Chiefs 9 7 .563 297 300
San Diego Chargers 8 8 .500 310 376
Oakland Raiders 7 9 .438 340 293
Seattle Seahawks 7 9 .438 317 376
NFC East
(3) Dallas Cowboys 10 6 .625 286 250
(5) Philadelphia Eagles 10 6 .625 363 341
Washington Redskins 9 7 .563 364 312
Arizona Cardinals 7 9 .438 300 397
New York Giants 6 10 .375 242 297
NFC Central
(1) Green Bay Packers 13 3 .813 456 210
(6) Minnesota Vikings 9 7 .563 298 315
Chicago Bears 7 9 .438 283 305
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6 10 .375 221 293
Detroit Lions 5 11 .313 302 368
NFC West
(2) Carolina Panthers 12 4 .750 367 218
(4) San Francisco 49ers 12 4 .750 398 257
St. Louis Rams 6 10 .375 303 409
Atlanta Falcons 3 13 .188 309 461
New Orleans Saints 3 13 .188 229 339


  • Jacksonville was the second AFC Wild Card ahead of Indianapolis and Kansas City based on better conference record (7–5 to Colts' 6–6 and Chiefs' 5–7).
  • Indianapolis was the third AFC Wild Card based on head-to-head victory over Kansas City (1–0).
  • Cincinnati finished ahead of Houston in the AFC Central based on better net division points (19 to Oilers' 11).
  • Oakland finished ahead of Seattle in the AFC West based on better division record (3–5 to Seahawks' 2–6).
  • Dallas finished ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East based on better record against common opponents (7–4 to Eagles' 6–5.)
  • Minnesota was the third NFC Wild Card based on better conference record than Washington (8–4 to Redskins' 6–6).
  • Carolina finished ahead of San Francisco in the NFC West based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
  • Atlanta finished ahead of New Orleans in the NFC West based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).


Dec. 28 – Rich Stadium   Jan. 4 – Mile High Stadium          
 5  Jacksonville  30
 5  Jacksonville  30
 4  Buffalo  27     Jan. 12 – Foxboro Stadium
 1  Denver  27  
Dec. 29 – Three Rivers Stadium  5  Jacksonville  6
Jan. 5 – Foxboro Stadium
   2  New England  20  
 6  Indianapolis  14 AFC Championship
 3  Pittsburgh  3
 3  Pittsburgh  42   Jan. 26 – Louisiana Superdome
 2  New England  28  
Wild card playoffs  
Divisional playoffs
Dec. 28 – Texas Stadium  A2  New England  21
Jan. 5 – Ericsson Stadium
   N1  Green Bay  35
 6  Minnesota  15 Super Bowl XXXI
 3  Dallas  17
 3  Dallas  40     Jan. 12 – Lambeau Field
 2  Carolina  26  
Dec. 29 – 3Com Park  2  Carolina  13
Jan. 4 – Lambeau Field
   1  Green Bay  30  
 5  Philadelphia  0 NFC Championship
 4  San Francisco  14
 4  San Francisco  14  
 1  Green Bay  35  

Statistical leaders[edit]


Points scored Green Bay Packers (456)
Total yards gained Denver Broncos (5,791)
Yards rushing Denver Broncos (2,362)
Yards passing Jacksonville Jaguars (4,110)
Fewest points allowed Green Bay Packers (210)
Fewest total yards allowed Green Bay Packers (4,156)
Fewest rushing yards allowed Denver Broncos (1,331)
Fewest passing yards allowed Green Bay Packers (2,740)


Scoring John Kasay, Carolina (145 points)
Touchdowns Terry Allen, Washington (21 TDs)
Most field goals made John Kasay, Carolina (37 FGs)
Rushing Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,553 yards)
Passing Steve Young, San Francisco (97.2 rating)
Passing touchdowns Brett Favre, Green Bay (39 TDs)
Pass receiving Jerry Rice, San Francisco (108 catches)
Pass receiving yards Isaac Bruce, St. Louis (1,338)
Punt returns Desmond Howard, Green Bay (15.1 average yards)
Kickoff returns Michael Bates, Carolina (30.2 average yards)
Interceptions Tyrone Braxton, Denver and Keith Lyle, St. Louis (9)
Punting John Kidd, Miami (46.3 average yards)
Sacks Kevin Greene, Carolina (14.5)


Most Valuable Player Brett Favre, Quarterback, Green Bay
Coach of the Year Dom Capers, Carolina
Offensive Player of the Year Terrell Davis, Running Back, Denver
Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Smith, Defensive End, Buffalo
Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie George, Running Back, Houston
Defensive Rookie of the Year Simeon Rice, Defensive End, Arizona
Comeback Player of the Year Jerome Bettis, Running Back, Pittsburgh
NFL Man of the Year Award Darrell Green, Cornerback, Washington
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Desmond Howard, Return Specialist, Green Bay


The 1996 NFL Draft was held from April 20 to 21, 1996 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the New York Jets selected wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson from the University of Southern California.

External links[edit]



  1. ^ Michael Holly (2004). Patriots Reign (1st ed. HC ed.). HarperCollins. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-06-075795-3.