This was the first year that the playoffs expanded to a ten-team format, adding a second wild card team (a fifth seed) from each conference. The two wild card teams from each conference (the 4 and 5 seeds) would play each other in the first round, called the "Wild Card Playoffs." The division winners (seeds 1, 2, and 3) automatically advanced to the Divisional Playoffs, which became the second round of the playoffs.
However, the league continued to prohibit meetings between two teams from the same division in the Divisional Playoffs. Thus, there would be times when the pairing in that round would be the 1 seed vs. the 3 seed and 2 vs. 4.
Note: As per the rules of the NFL playoffs prior to the 1990 season (notwithstanding the strike-shortened 1982 season), the Pittsburgh Steelers (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Houston Oilers (the 5 seed), nor did the Los Angeles Rams (the NFC 1 seed) play the Atlanta Falcons (the 4 seed), in the Divisional playoff round because those teams were in the same division.
MIA - Tillman 13 pass from Griese (Yepremian kick) MIA 7-0
HOU - Wilson 13 pass from Pastorini (Fritsch kick) 7-7
HOU - field goal Fritsch 35 HOU 10-7
HOU - Campbell 1 run (Fritsch kick) HOU 17-7
MIA - Safety, Pastorini ran out of end zone HOU 17-9
Quarterback Dan Pastorini led the Oilers to an upset victory by passing for 306 yards. The Dolphins scored first after Earnie Rhone recovered a fumbled punt at the Houston 21-yard line, setting up quarterback Bob Griese's 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andre Tillman. However, the Oilers responded with a 71-yard drive that was capped with Pastorini's 13-yard touchdown pass to running back Tim Wilson. Neither team scored again until the fourth quarter when Toni Fritsch made a 35-yard field goal. Then, linebacker Gregg Bingham intercepted Griese on Miami's next drive to set up running back Earl Campbell's 1-yard rushing touchdown. The Dolphins closed out the scoring, but only when Pastorini ran out of the end zone for an intentional safety to run out the clock.
NFC: Atlanta Falcons 14, Philadelphia Eagles 13Edit
ATL - Francis 37 pass from Bartkowski (Mazzetti kick) ATL 14-13
The Falcons won their first playoff game in team history after they overcame a 13-0 deficit by scoring 2 touchdowns in the final 5 minutes of the game. In the first quarter, Philadelphia's Cleveland Franklin recovered a fumble on a punt return, setting up wide receiver Harold Carmichael's 13-yard touchdown reception. However, kicker Mike Michel missed the ensuing extra point, which would later prove to be costly. Neither team would score again until the third quarter when the Eagles would drive 60 yards to running back Wilbert Montgomery's 1-yard rushing touchdown. But late in the fourth period, Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski completed 4 of 6 passes for 88 yards, as Atlanta came back to score on tight end Jim Mitchell's 20-yard touchdown reception. Then on the Falcons next drive, Bartkowski threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Wallace Francis with 1:39 left in the game. The Eagles had one last shot to win the game as they reached the Atlanta 16-yard line with 13 seconds remaining, but Michel missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
The Steelers dominated the Broncos by gaining 425 yards of total offense. After Denver scored first on a field goal, Pittsburgh responded by driving 66 yards in 8 plays to score on running back Franco Harris' 1-yard touchdown run. Then on the Steelers' next drive, Harris ran 18 yards to the end zone for his second touchdown. Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, a 45-yarder to wide receiver John Stallworth and a 38-yard one to wide receiver Lynn Swann. Bradshaw completed 16 of 29 passes for 272 yards and 2 touchdowns, Stallworth had 10 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown, and Harris rushed for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns.
ATL - Francis 17 pass from Bartkowski (Mazzetti kick) ATL 17-13
ATL - field goal Mazzetti 22 ATL 20-13
DAL - Smith 2 pass from D. White (Septien kick) 20-20
DAL - Laidlaw 1 run (Septien kick) DAL 27-20
Dallas' "Doomsday Defense" limited Atlanta quarterback Steve Bartkowski to only 8 completions in 23 attempts and intercepted him 3 times en route to victory. After the Falcons led 20-13 at halftime, the Cowboys scored 14 unanswered points in the second half. Atlanta scored on their first four possessions with a 14-yard rushing touchdown by running back Bubba Bean, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Bartkowski to Wallace Francis, and two field goals. Dallas countered with a 13-yard touchdown run by Scott Laidlaw and two field goals of their own. In the second half, Cowboys starting quarterback Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game with a concussion after being hit on a blitz by Falcons linebacker Robert Pennywell . Backup Danny White then led Dallas on a 54-yard drive that ended with tight end Jackie Smith's 2-yard touchdown reception to tie the game 20-20. In the fourth quarter, Laidlaw scored on a 1-yard touchdown run that was set up after a bad Falcons punt enabled Dallas to take over the ball at the Atlanta 30-yard line.
NE - Jackson 24 pass from Johnson (Posey kick) HOU 24-7
NE - Francis 24 pass from Owens (Posey kick) HOU 24-14
HOU - Campbell 2 run (Fritsch kick) HOU 31-14
Quarterback Dan Pastorini led the Oilers to a victory by throwing for 200 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Earl Campbell rushed for 118 yards and a score. Houston jumped to a 21-0 halftime advantage as Pastorini threw a 71-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ken Burrough, a 19-yarder to tight end Mike Barber, and a 13-yarder to Barber. After Burrough's score gave the Oilers a 7-0 lead, the Patriots marched deep into Houston territory, but safety Mike Reinfeldt intercepted a pass at the 1-yard line, and then the Oilers marched 99 yards to score on Barber's first touchdown. Another Reinfeldt interception set up Barber's second score. New England scored two touchdowns in the second half to cut the lead 24-14, but an interception by linebacker Gregg Bingham set up Campbell's 2-yard rushing touchdown to close out the scoring.
Patriots tight end Russ Francis caught 8 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
NFC: Los Angeles Rams 34, Minnesota Vikings 10Edit
LA - Miller 9 pass from Haden (Corral kick) LA 7-3
LA - field goal Corral 43 LA 10-3
MIN - Rashad 1 pass from Tarkenton (Danmeier kick)10-10
LA - Bryant 3 run (Corral kick) LA 17-10
LA - Jessie 27 pass from Haden (Corral kick) LA 24-10
LA - field goal Corral 28 LA 27-10
LA - Jodat 3 run (Corral kick) LA 34-10
After the game was tied 10-10 at halftime, the Rams dominated the second half by scoring 24 unanswered points. After the Vikings opened up the scoring with a field goal, Los Angeles marched 59 yards to score on quarterback Pat Haden's 9-yard touchdown pass to Willie Miller. However, Minnesota tied the game 6 seconds before halftime when quarterback Fran Tarkenton threw a 1-yard touchdown to Ahmad Rashad. From that point on, the Rams controlled the rest of the game. After Cullen Bryant gave Los Angeles the lead midway through the third period with a 3-yard touchdown, Haden threw a 27-yard touchdown to Ron Jessie. Meanwhile, the Vikings offense could only manage 58 yards of offense during the second half in what turned out to be Tarkenton's last game of a Hall of Fame career.
HOU - Safety, Washington tackled Bleier in end zone PIT 34-5
On a wet, slick, and slippery field, the Steelers dominated the Oilers by forcing 9 turnovers and only allowing 5 points. Pittsburgh took the early lead by driving 57 yards to score on running back Franco Harris' 7-yard touchdown run. Then, linebacker Jack Ham recovered a fumble at the Houston 17-yard line, which led to running back Rocky Bleier's 15-yard rushing touchdown.
In the second quarter, a 19-yard field goal by Oilers kicker Toni Fritsch cut the score 14-3, but then the Steelers scored 17 points during the last 48 seconds of the second quarter. First, Houston running back Ronnie Coleman lost a fumble, and moments later Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann caught a 29-yard touchdown reception. Then Johnnie Dirden fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth's 17-yard reception. After the Oilers got the ball back, Coleman fumbled again, and Roy Gerela kicked a field goal to increase Pittsburgh's lead, 31-3. Houston would never pose a threat for the remainder of the game as they turned over the ball 4 times in their 6 second-half possessions.
NFC Championship: Dallas Cowboys 28, Los Angeles Rams 0Edit
DAL - Laidlaw 4 pass from Staubach (Septien kick) DAL 14-0
DAL - DuPree 11 pass from Staubach (Septien kick) DAL 21-0
DAL - Henderson 68 interception return (Septien kick) DAL 28-0
After a scoreless defensive struggle in the first half (Ram kicker Frank Corral missed two field goals), the Cowboys forced 5 second half turnovers that led to 28 points. With 1:52 left in the third quarter, Dallas safety Charlie Waters intercepted a pass and returned it to the Los Angeles 10-yard line. Five plays later, running back Tony Dorsett, who finished the game with 101 rushing yards, scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead. Waters then recorded another interception on the Rams next drive, setting up quarterback Roger Staubach's 4-yard touchdown pass to Scott Laidlaw with 58 seconds into the final period. On Waters' second interception, Pat Haden's throwing hand hit Randy White's helmet, breaking his thumb and knocking him out of the game. On the Rams' next drive, Vince Ferragamo, Haden's replacement, hit Willie Miller on a 65-yard pass to the 10-yard line, but on first and goal Cullen Bryant fumbled, and Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin recovered at the 11-yard line. Dallas then marched 89 yards, featuring a 53 yard run on first down by Tony Dorsett to score on Billy Joe Dupree's 11-yard touchdown catch. The Cowboys closed out the scoring with 1:19 left in the game when linebacker Thomas Henderson intercepted a Ferragamo pass and returned it 68-yards for the final touchdown.