The NFL playoffs following the 1988 NFL season led up to Super Bowl XXIII.

Due to Christmas, the two wild card playoff games were held in a span of three days.

Playoff seeds
1 Cincinnati Bengals (Central winner) Chicago Bears (Central winner)
2 Buffalo Bills (East winner) San Francisco 49ers (West winner)
3 Seattle Seahawks (West winner) Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)
4 Cleveland Browns Minnesota Vikings
5 Houston Oilers Los Angeles Rams

Note: As per the rules of the NFL playoffs prior to the 1990 season (notwithstanding the strike-shortened 1982 season), the Cincinnati Bengals (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Houston Oilers (the 5 seed), nor did the Chicago Bears (the NFC 1 seed) play the Minnesota Vikings (the 4 seed), in the Divisional playoff round because those teams were in the same division.


*Note: Two teams from the same division were not allowed to play against each other in the Divisional playoff round.
Divisional Playoffs
    January 1 - Rich Stadium        
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship
 5  Houston  10
December 24 - Cleveland Stadium     January 8 - Riverfront Stadium
 2*  Buffalo  17  
 5  Houston  24  2  Buffalo  10
December 31 - Riverfront Stadium
 4  Cleveland  23      1  Cincinnati  21   Super Bowl XXIII
 3  Seattle  13
    January 22 - Joe Robbie Stadium
 1*  Cincinnati  21  
 A1  Cincinnati  16
January 1 - Candlestick Park
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship    N2  San Francisco  20
 4  Minnesota  9
December 26 - Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome     January 8 - Soldier Field
 2*  San Francisco  34  
 5  L.A. Rams  17  2  San Francisco  28
December 31 - Soldier Field
 4  Minnesota  28      1  Chicago  3  
 3  Philadelphia  12
 1*  Chicago  20  

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Wild Card playoffsEdit

December 24, 1988Edit

AFC: Houston Oilers 24, Cleveland Browns 23Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Oilers 0 14 0 10


Browns 3 6 7 7


at Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

Oilers cornerback Richard Johnson's interception set up kicker Tony Zendejas' game-clinching 49-field field goal with 1:54 left in the game. After the Browns scored first on a 33-yard field goal by Matt Bahr, Houston marched 91 yards to score on quarterback Warren Moon's 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Allen Pinkett. Then on Cleveland's next drive, Oilers defensive lineman Richard Byrd recovered quarterback Don Strock's fumble to set up Pinkett's 16-yard touchdown run. Bahr later made two field goals to cut Houston's lead, 14-9, before halftime. In the third quarter, backup quarterback Mike Pagel, who replaced an injured Strock, threw a 14-yard touchdown completion to wide receiver Webster Slaughter to put the Browns ahead, 16-14. However, the Oilers marched on a 76-yard drive that was capped with running back Lorenzo White's 1-yard rushing touchdown. After Johnson's interception and Zendejas' subsequent game-clinching 49-yard field goal, Slaughter caught a 2-yard touchdown reception to close out the scoring.

December 26, 1988Edit

NFC: Minnesota Vikings 28, Los Angeles Rams 17Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Rams 0 7 3 7


Vikings 14 0 7 7


at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Vikings safety Joey Browner recorded two interceptions in the first quarter to set up a two touchdown lead that the Rams could never recover from. Browner's first interception led to a Minnesota 73-yard drive that was capped by running back Alfred Anderson's 7-yard rushing touchdown. Browner returned his second interception to the Los Angeles 17-yard line, where Allen Rice took it in for a touchdown on the next play. In the second quarter, Rams quarterback Jim Everett cut the lead in half with a 3-yard touchdown completion to tight end Damone Johnson. But in the third quarter, Anderson scored another touchdown, this time a 1-yard run, to extend the Vikings lead, 21-7. The Rams responded with a 33-yard field goal by Mike Lansford, but Minnesota put the game out of reach with tight end Carl Hilton's 5-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Wade Wilson. Wilson finished the game with 253 passing yards and a touchdown, while receiver Anthony Carter caught 4 passes for 102 yards.

Divisional playoffsEdit

December 31, 1988Edit

NFC: Chicago Bears 20, Philadelphia Eagles 12Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Eagles 3 6 3 0


Bears 7 10 0 3


at Soldier Field, Chicago

In a game known as The Fog Bowl, the Bears defeated the Eagles, 20-12, in a contest in which a heavy, dense fog rolled over Chicago's Soldier Field during the second quarter and cut visibility to about 15-20 yards for the rest of the game.

Chicago scored first with quarterback Mike Tomczak's 64-yard touchdown pass to Dennis McKinnon. The Eagles responded by driving to the Chicago 26-yard line, but kicker Luis Zendejas missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. Philadelphia quickly got the ball back after linebacker Seth Joyner intercepted a pass from Tomczak, and this time they managed to score with Zendejas' 42-yard field goal, but only after committing two costly mistakes: twice on the drive Philadelphia had touchdowns nullified by penalties. The Bears then drove to the Eagles 33-yard line on their ensuing drive, but it stalled and kicker Kevin Butler missed a 51-yard field goal attempt, giving the ball back to Philadelphia with great field position. Cunningham then led the Eagles inside Chicago's 20-yard line where Zendejas kicked a 29-yard field goal to cut the team's deficit to one point, 7–6.

Two possessions later, the Bears drove 44 yards and scored with Neal Anderson's 4-yard touchdown run to give them a 14–6 lead. Both teams scored another field goal before halftime, and they went into their locker rooms with Chicago leading 17–9. By the time the second half began, the heavy fog made it extremely difficult for the teams to move the ball. Each team could only score a short field goal in the second half.

Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham finished the game with 407 passing yards, but was unable to lead his team to a single touchdown and was intercepted 3 times. Other than a 64-yard touchdown pass, Tomczak was dominated the rest of the game by the Eagles defense, completing only 10 of 20 passes for 174 yards with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. McKinnon finished the game with 4 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. Eagles fullback Keith Byars rushed for 34 yards and caught 9 passes for 103 yards. Tight end Keith Jackson caught 7 passes for 142 yards.

AFC: Cincinnati Bengals 21, Seattle Seahawks 13Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Seahawks 0 0 0 13


Bengals 7 14 0 0


at Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

Seattle's defense completely shut down Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, the NFL's top rated quarterback and MVP during the season, limiting him to just 7 of 19 completions for 108 yards. But they were unable to contain Cincinnati on the ground. The Bengals recorded 254 rushing yards (126 of them and a touchdown from fullback Ickey Woods, a franchise postseason record), while holding the Seahawks to 22.

Cincinnati jumped to a 21–0 halftime lead with Woods' score and two from running back Stanley Wilson. Meanwhile, the Seahawks could only manage 47 total yards in the first half. But after a scoreless third quarter, Seattle attempted a comeback. First, quarterback Dave Krieg threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to John L. Williams, who finished the game with 11 receptions for 137 yards. Then Krieg scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. However, Norm Johnson missed the extra point attempt and the Seattle was unable to score again.

January 1, 1989Edit

AFC: Buffalo Bills 17, Houston Oilers 10Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Oilers 0 3 0 7


Bills 0 7 7 3


at Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, New York

The Bills dominated the Oilers throughout most of the game, blocking a punt, converting a turnover into the game-clinching field goal, and forcing a turnover on Houston's final drive to defeat a comeback attempt. After a scoreless first quarter, Buffalo safety Leonard Smith blocked a punt to set up running back Robb Riddick's 1-yard touchdown. Houston responded by driving 71 yards and scoring with a 35-yard field goal from Tony Zendejas. In the third quarter, Bills rookie running back Thurman Thomas scored on an 11-yard rushing touchdown. Then in the fourth period, Buffalo defensive back Mark Kelso intercepted a pass from Warren Moon and returned it 28 yards to the Oilers 18-yard line, setting up kicker Scott Norwood's 27-yard field goal to increase their lead to 17–3.

With just over 5 minutes left in the game, Oilers running back Mike Rozier capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, making the score 17–10. The Oilers subsequently forced a punt with two minutes remaining, but Steve Tasker forced a fumble while tackling wide receiver Curtis Duncan, and linebacker Ray Bentley recovered the ball, allowing Buffalo to run out the rest of the clock.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers 34, Minnesota Vikings 9Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Vikings 3 0 6 0


49ers 7 14 0 13


at Candlestick Park, San Francisco

San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana threw three touchdowns to wide receiver Jerry Rice, while running back Roger Craig rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns and defensive back Ronnie Lott added two interceptions. After Minnesota scored first on a field goal, Montana and Rice connected for first half scores from 2, 4, and 11 yards. Meanwhile, the San Francisco defense recorded 5 sacks before halftime. The Vikings finally scored a touchdown in the third quarter with quarterback Wade Wilson's 5-yard pass to wide receiver Hassan Jones. But Minnesota was shut out from that point on as Craig scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and an NFL playoff record 80-yard touchdown run.

Conference championshipsEdit

January 8, 1989Edit

AFC Championship: Cincinnati Bengals 21, Buffalo Bills 10Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Bills 0 10 0 0


Bengals 7 7 0 7


at Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

The Bengals forced 3 interceptions, and allowed only 45 rushing yards and 136 passing yards, while their offense held the ball for 39:29. Bills starting running back Thurman Thomas was held to just 6 yards on 4 carries, while quarterback Jim Kelly completed only 14 of 30 passes for 161 yards and 1 touchdown, with 3 interceptions. Just like their previous game, the Bengals did not get much of a performance from NFL MVP Boomer Esiason, who completed only 11 of 20 passes for 94 yards, with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. But once again, their running game was able to pick up the slack, gaining 175 yards on the ground, 102 yards and 2 touchdowns coming from fullback Ickey Woods.

Cincinnati took a 7–0 lead in the first quarter after defensive back Eric Thomas' interception set up Woods' 1-yard touchdown. Kelly led the Bills back with 4 consecutive completions, the last one a 9-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andre Reed. Then after forcing a punt, Buffalo drove to the Bengals 26-yard line, only to have Scott Norwood miss a 43-yard field goal attempt. Following another punt, Kelly was intercepted again, this time by defensive back Lewis Billups, and the Bengals capitalized with running back James Brooks' 10-yard touchdown reception from Esiason. Later on, Bills defensive back Mark Kelso intercepted a pass from Esiason and returned it 25 yards, setting up a 39-yard field goal by Norwood to cut the Bills deficit to 14–10 by halftime.

The Bengals took over the game in the second half, forcing Buffalo to start all of their drives from inside their own 23-yard line and holding them to 53 yards, 2 first downs, and 0 points. Late in the third quarter, Bengals running back Stanley Wilson ran 6 yards for a first down on a fake punt attempt, and Cincinnati drove to score on Woods' second touchdown of the game, increasing their lead to 21–10. The Bills responded with a drive into Bengals territory, but safety David Fulcher picked off a desperate fourth down pass from Kelly in the end zone.

The Bills would not lose another game to the Bengals until Week 4 of the 2011 NFL season.

NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers 28, Chicago Bears 3Edit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 7 7 7 7


Bears 0 3 0 0


at Soldier Field, Chicago

Despite playing in a game-time temperature of 17°F, a wind chill of -26°F, and wind gusts up to 30 MPH, the 49ers scored a touchdown in every quarter and gained 406 total yards of offense while limiting Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon to just 121 passing yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception. San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns, the first two to wide receiver Jerry Rice. Late in the first quarter, The 49ers faced a 3rd and long from their own 39 yard line. Despite the high winds, Montana was able to whistle a long pass in to Rice, who, despite double coverage from Bears defenders Mike Richardson and Todd Krumm, was able to catch the pass and outrun both defenders to score a 61-yard Touchdown. Rice would score his second touchdown midway through the second quarter, a 27-yard reception in which he caught a low slant pass from Montana in stride and scored untouched. In the third quarter, the 49ers marched 78 yards to score on tight end John Frank's 5-yard touchdown reception from Montana. San Francisco's final score was running back Tom Rathman's 4-yard rushing touchdown. Rice finished the game with 5 receptions for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bears' lone score was Kevin Butler's 25-yard field goal in the second period.

Super BowlEdit

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Bengals (AFC) 0 3 10 3


49ers (NFC) 3 0 3 14


at Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami, Florida

  • Date: January 22, 1989
  • Game attendance: 75,129
  • Referee: Jerry Seeman
  • TV announcers (NBC): Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen


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