1988 National Football League season
Regular season
Duration September 4, 1988-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, Florida
Champions San Francisco 49ers
Pro Bowl
Date January 29, 1989
Site Aloha Stadium
National Football League seasons
 < 1987 1989 > 

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.

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.

Major rule changesEdit

  • 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 standingsEdit

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

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

AFC East
y-Buffalo Bills 1240.750329237
Indianapolis Colts 970.563354315
New England Patriots 970.563250284
New York Jets 871.531372354
Miami Dolphins 6100.375319380
AFC Central
y-Cincinnati Bengals 1240.750448329
x-Cleveland Browns 1060.625304288
x-Houston Oilers 1060.625424365
Pittsburgh Steelers 5110.313336421
AFC West
y-Seattle Seahawks 970.563339329
Denver Broncos 880.500327352
Los Angeles Raiders 790.438325369
San Diego Chargers 6100.375231332
Kansas City Chiefs 4111.281254320
NFC East
y-Philadelphia Eagles 1060.625379319
New York Giants 1060.625359304
Washington Redskins 790.438345387
Phoenix Cardinals 790.438344398
Dallas Cowboys 3130.188265381
NFC Central
y-Chicago Bears 1240.750312215
x-Minnesota Vikings 1150.688406233
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5110.313261350
Detroit Lions 4120.250220313
Green Bay Packers 4120.250240315
NFC West
y-San Francisco 49ers 1060.625369294
x-Los Angeles Rams 1060.625407293
New Orleans Saints 1060.625312283
Atlanta Falcons 5110.313244315


  • 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 (6–3 to Eagles' 5–4).
  • Philadelphia finished first in the NFC East based on head-to-head sweep of 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 L.A. Rams (2–2) and New Orleans (1–3).
  • 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 N.Y. Giants (9–5) and New Orleans (6–6).


Home team in capitals


  • Wild-Card playoff: Houston 24, CLEVELAND 23
  • Divisional playoffs: CINCINNATI 21, Seattle 13; BUFFALO 17, Houston 10
  • AFC Championship: CINCINNATI 21, Buffalo 10 at Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, January 8, 1989


  • Wild-Card playoff: MINNESOTA 28, L.A. Rams 17
  • Divisional playoffs: CHICAGO 20, Philadelphia 12; SAN FRANCISCO 34, Minnesota 9
  • NFC Championship: San Francisco 28, CHICAGO 3 at Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, January 8, 1989

Super BowlEdit


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, N.Y. Jets


1988 NFL seasonv · d · e
AFC East Central West East Central West NFC
Buffalo Cincinnati Denver Dallas Chicago Atlanta
Indianapolis Cleveland Kansas City NY Giants Detroit LA Rams
Miami Houston LA Raiders Philadelphia Green Bay New Orleans
New England Pittsburgh San Diego Phoenix Minnesota San Francisco
NY Jets Seattle Washington Tampa Bay
1988 NFL DraftNFL PlayoffsPro BowlSuper Bowl XXIII
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