The 1966 NFL season was the 47th regular season of the National Football League, and the season after which was played Super Bowl I, though it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The league expanded to 15 teams with the addition of the Atlanta Falcons, thus an odd number of teams (making byes necessary). This was the last season that NFL teams were divided into just two groups called conferences, and only one round of playoffs was played, the NFL championship game between the two conference champions. The season concluded with Super Bowl I. The NFL Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a score of 35-10.
The league awarded an expansion franchise to the city of Atlanta on June 30, 1965. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle granted ownership of the Atlanta Falcons to Rankin Smith, Sr. The Falcons were awarded the first pick in the 1966 NFL draft, as well as the final pick in each of the first five rounds. The league also provided the Falcons with an expansion draft six weeks later.
As the competitive war between the NFL and the American Football League reached its peak, the two leagues agreed to merge on June 8, 1966. Under the agreement:The two leagues would combine to form an expanded league with 24 teams, which would be increased to 26 teams by 1969, and to 28 teams by 1970 or soon thereafter.
All existing teams would be retained, and none of them would be moved outside of their metropolitan areas.
While maintaining separate schedules through 1969, the leagues agreed to play an annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game beginning in January 1967.
The two leagues would officially merge in 1970 to form one league with two conferences.
Goal posts were standardized in the NFL. They were to be between 3 and 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter, painted bright yellow, with two non-curved supports offset from the goal line, and uprights 20 feet (6.1 m) above the crossbar. In 1967, the new "slingshot" goal post was made standard, with one curved support from the ground. In 1974, the goal posts were returned to the end line, and the uprights were extended to 30 feet (9.1 m) above the crossbar, and to 35 feet (10.7 m) in 2014.
The new goal-post rule is often referred to as the "Don Chandler Rule", referring to the placekicker for the Green Bay Packers. Although widely denied, the height increase of the uprights was in reaction to the previous season's Western Conference playoff game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Chandler kicked a controversial field goal that tied the game with under two minutes remaining. The kick was high above the upright, and many spectators thought that the kick missed. Chandler later hit a field goal that defeated the Baltimore Colts in overtime. The following week, the Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship Game, their first of three consecutive league titles.
St. Louis opened new Busch Stadium in 1966.
In the Western Conference, Green Bay's first loss was in Week 5, falling 21–20 in San Francisco to tie them with the Rams. The Rams lost 35–7 to Minnesota the next week, and Green Bay stayed in front until Week 9, when Minnesota beat them 20–17. Baltimore's 19–7 win over Atlanta briefly tied it with the Packers at 7–2–0 in Week 10, but the Colts lost to Detroit the next week, 20–14. The Packers clinched the title in Week 13.
In the Eastern Conference, the St. Louis Cardinals took the early lead, winning their first five games. (The Dallas Cowboys were also unbeaten, but due to a bye in Week One, they had played one fewer game and thus were a half-game behind the Cardinals in the standings). The unbeaten teams met in Week 6, and both were still unbeaten after they played to a 10–10 tie. However, both teams suffered their first defeat the next week, with St. Louis losing at Washington, 26–20, and the Cowboys falling in Cleveland, 30–21. In Week 9 (November 6), St. Louis beat the Giants, 20–17, while Dallas came up short in a 24–23 loss to the Eagles. The next week, Dallas won at Washington 31–30 on a field goal with 0:15 left, while the Cards fell at Pittsburgh, 30–9, cutting their safety margin to a half-game again. St. Louis had a bye in Week 11, and a 20–7 Dallas victory over Pittsburgh gave the Cards and Cowboys records of 7–2–1. Both teams won the next week, setting up the stage for their December 4 meeting in Dallas during Week 13. The Cards took a 10–7 lead in the first quarter, but Dallas won 31–17 to take over the conference lead. In Week Fourteen, Dallas hosted Washington, and lost 34–31 on a field goal at 0:08. The Cardinals were in a must-win game against what should have been an easy opponent, the new (2–10–0) Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the Falcons notched their third win and virtually ended St. Louis's hopes to go to the title game. The St. Louis Cardinals, who lost again the next week, never got that close to the Super Bowl again before moving to Phoenix twenty years later.
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
Note: Prior to 1972, the NFL did not include tie games when calculating a team's winning percentage in the official standingsGreen Bay 34, Dallas 27 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, on January 1, 1967
The Playoff Bowl was between the conference runners-up, for third place in the league. This was its seventh year and it was played a week after the title game.Baltimore 20, Philadelphia 14 at Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida, January 8, 1967