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1986 NFL season

Updated: 2017-06-10T14:18Z
1986 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 7 – December 22, 1986
Start dateDecember 28, 1986
AFC ChampionsDenver Broncos
NFC ChampionsNew York Giants
Super Bowl XXI
DateJanuary 25, 1987
SiteRose Bowl, Pasadena, California
ChampionsNew York Giants
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 1, 1987
SiteAloha Stadium

The 1986 NFL season was the 67th regular season of the National Football League. The defending Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears shared the league's best record with the Giants at 14-2, with the Giants claiming the spot in the NFC by tiebreakers. In the AFC, the Cleveland Browns earned home-field advantage with a record of 12-4, and they hosted the New York Jets in round one of the AFC playoffs. The Jets had started the season at 10-1 before losing their final five contests. The game went to double OT, with the Browns finally prevailing 23-20. The following Sunday, John Elway and the Denver Broncos defeated the Browns by an identical score in the game known as The Drive, where Elway drove his team 98 yards to send the game to overtime to win. The Giants would defeat their rival Washington Redskins in the NFC title game, blanking them 17-0 to advance to their first Super Bowl. The season ended with Super Bowl XXI when the New York Giants defeated the Denver Broncos 39-20 at the Rose Bowl to win their first league title in 30 years.

Major rule changes

  • Players are prohibited from wearing apparel, equipment, or other items that carry commercial names, names of organizations, or any type of personal message unless they get specific permission from the league.
  • If the offensive team commits a dead ball foul during the last two minutes of a half, the clock will start at the snap.
  • If an offensive player fumbles the ball and it goes forward and out of bounds, the ball is returned to that team at the spot of the fumble.
  • If an offensive player fumbles the ball in the field of play and it goes out of bounds in the opponent's end zone, the ball is given to the defensive team at the spot of the fumble (this rule would be changed in 1991 to result in a touchback).
  • A limited system of instant replay was adopted to aid officiating. A replay official in a booth would decide what plays to review and make the final ruling, regardless of the current score or the amount of time left in the game. The replay official communicated with the game officials via radio transmitters. However, there was no time limit on how long the replay official could review a play and this led to long game delays (this was a major reason why the system was eventually repealed in 1992 and not brought back until time limits for replays were established in 1999).

Final standings

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

AFC East
(3) New England Patriots1150.688412307
(4) New York Jets1060.625364386
Miami Dolphins880.500430405
Buffalo Bills4120.250287348
Indianapolis Colts3130.188229400
AFC Central
(1) Cleveland Browns1240.750391310
Cincinnati Bengals1060.625409394
Pittsburgh Steelers6100.375307336
Houston Oilers5110.313274329
AFC West
(2) Denver Broncos1150.688378327
(5) Kansas City Chiefs1060.625358326
Seattle Seahawks1060.625366293
Los Angeles Raiders880.500323346
San Diego Chargers4120.250335396
NFC East
(1) New York Giants1420.875371236
(4) Washington Redskins1240.750368296
Dallas Cowboys790.438346337
Philadelphia Eagles5101.344256312
St. Louis Cardinals4111.281218351
NFC Central
(2) Chicago Bears1420.875352187
Minnesota Vikings970.563398273
Detroit Lions5110.313277326
Green Bay Packers4120.250254418
Tampa Bay Buccaneers2140.125239473
NFC West
(3) San Francisco 49ers1051.656374247
(5) Los Angeles Rams1060.625309267
Atlanta Falcons781.469280280
New Orleans Saints790.438288287


  • Denver was second AFC playoff seed ahead of New England based on head-to-head victory (1–0).
  • N.Y. Jets was the first AFC Wild Card based on better conference record (8–4) than Kansas City (9–5), Seattle (7–5), and Cincinnati (7–5).
  • Kansas City was the second AFC Wild Card based on better conference record (9–5) than Seattle (7–5) and Cincinnati (7–5).
  • N.Y. Giants was the top NFC playoff seed based on better conference record than Chicago (11–1 to Bears' 10–2).


NOTE: The New York Giants (the NFC one seed) did not play the Washington Redskins (the four seed) in the Divisional playoff round because both teams were in the same division.
Divisional Playoffs
  Jan. 4 – Mile High Stadium    
AFC Wild Card GameAFC Championship
 3 New England 17
Dec. 28 – Giants Stadium  Jan. 11 – Cleveland Stadium
 2 Denver 22 
 5 Kansas City 15 2 Denver 23*
Jan. 3 – Cleveland Stadium
 4 NY Jets 35   1 Cleveland 20 Super Bowl XXI
 4 NY Jets 20
  Jan. 25 – Rose Bowl
 1 Cleveland 23** 
 A2 Denver 20
Jan. 3 – Soldier Field
NFC Wild Card GameNFC Championship  N1 NY Giants 39
 4 Washington 27
Dec. 28 – Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium  Jan. 11 – Giants Stadium
 2* Chicago 13 
 5 LA Rams 7 4 Washington 0
Jan. 4 – Giants Stadium
 4 Washington 19   1 NY Giants 17 
 3 San Francisco 3
 1* NY Giants 49 
* Indicates overtime victory
** Indicates double-overtime victory

Statistical leaders


Points scoredMiami Dolphins (430)
Total yards gainedCincinnati Bengals (6,490)
Yards rushingChicago Bears (2,700)
Yards passingMiami Dolphins (4,779)
Fewest points allowedChicago Bears (187)
Fewest total yards allowedChicago Bears (4,130)
Fewest rushing yards allowedNew York Giants (1,284)
Fewest passing yards allowedSt. Louis Cardinals (2,637)


The following players set all-time records during the season:

Most Passes Completed, SeasonDan Marino, Miami (378)
Most Pass Attempts, SeasonDan Marino, Miami (623)


Most Valuable PlayerLawrence Taylor, Linebacker, New York Giants
Coach of the YearBill Parcells, New York Giants
Offensive Player of the YearEric Dickerson, Running back, Los Angeles Rams
Defensive Player of the YearLawrence Taylor, Linebacker, New York Giants
Offensive Rookie of the YearRueben Mayes, Running back, New Orleans Saints
Defensive Rookie of the YearLeslie O'Neal, Defensive end, San Diego Chargers
NFL Comeback Player of the YearJoe Montana, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers, Tommy Kramer, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings (co-winners)


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