The merger forced a realignment between the combined league's clubs. Because there were 16 NFL teams and 10 AFL teams, three teams needed to transfer to balance the two new conferences at 13 teams each. In May 1969, the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join all ten AFL teams to form the American Football Conference (AFC). The remaining NFL teams formed the National Football Conference (NFC).
Replacing the old Eastern and Western conferences (although divisions from those conferences still existed but were renamed to suit the realignment), the new conferences, AFC and NFC, function similar to Major League Baseball's American and National leagues, and each of those two were divided into three divisions: East, Central, and West. The two Eastern divisions had five teams; the other four divisions had four teams each. The realignment discussions for the NFC were so contentious that the final plan was selected from a vase in January 1970.
The format agreed on was as follows:NFC East: Dallas, New York (Giants), Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington
NFC Central: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota
NFC West: Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco
AFC East: Baltimore, Buffalo, Miami, Boston, New York (Jets)
AFC Central: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh
AFC West: Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego
This arrangement would keep most of the pre-merger NFL teams in the NFC and the AFL teams in the AFC. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore were placed in the AFC in order to balance it out, while the NFC equalized the competitive strength of its East and West divisions rather than sorting out teams just geographically.
Division alignment in 1970 was largely intended to preserve the pre-merger setups, keeping traditional rivals in the same division. Plans were also made to add two expansion teams—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks—but this would not take place until 1976, seven years after the merger.
Prior to 1966, the NFL had two seven-team conferences:Eastern Conference: Cleveland, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Washington
Western Conference: Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and San Francisco.
Atlanta was added as an expansion franchise in 1966 and placed in the Eastern Conference. Every team had a bye week during the 1966 season.
When New Orleans was awarded an expansion franchise for 1967, the NFL divided its teams into two eight-team conferences, with two four-team divisions in each conference as follows:Eastern Conference/Capitol Division: Dallas, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington
Eastern Conference/Century Division: Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis
Western Conference/Central Division: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota
Western Conference/Coastal Division: Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
The Giants and Saints swapped divisions in 1968, and then returned to the 1967 alignment in 1969.
Meanwhile, the AFL for its 10-year existence had:Eastern Division: Boston, Buffalo, Houston, and New York (with Miami added in 1966)
Western Division: Dallas/Kansas City, Denver, Los Angeles/San Diego, and Oakland (with Cincinnati added in 1968).
The 26-team league began to use an eight-team playoff format, four from each conference, that included the three division winners and a wild card team, the second-place team with the best record. The season concluded with the Colts defeating the Dallas Cowboys 16–13 in Super Bowl V, the first Super Bowl played for the NFL Championship. The game was held at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and was the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf.
Seven teams played their home games on artificial turf in 1970. This was up from 2 teams in both the NFL and AFL in 1969. The teams were: Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh opened new stadiums: Riverfront Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium.
To televise their games, the combined league retained the services of CBS and NBC, who were previously the primary broadcasters of the NFL and the AFL, respectively. It was then decided that CBS would televise all NFC teams (including playoff games) while NBC all AFC teams. For interconference games, CBS would broadcast them if the visiting team was from the NFC and NBC would carry them when the visitors were from the AFC. At the time, all NFL games were blacked out in the home team's market, so this arrangement meant that fans in each team's home market would see all of their team's televised Sunday afternoon games on the same network (CBS for NFC teams and NBC for AFC teams). The two networks also divided up the Super Bowl on a yearly rotation.
Meanwhile, with the debut of Monday Night Football on ABC September 21, 1970, the league became the first professional sports league in the United States to have a regular series of nationally-televised games in prime-time, and the only league ever to have its games televised on three major broadcast networks at the same time. Both teams that advanced to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys, had suffered humiliating defeats at home on Monday Night Football during the season. Adding ABC to the list gave the newly merged NFL television coverage on all of the Big Three television networks.
Before the season, the league demanded that the Chicago Bears find a new home field, because the seating capacity of Wrigley Field was too small (after the merger, all stadiums were required to seat at least 50,000), and Wrigley Field did not have lights, making it unavailable for late afternoon and night games. The Chicago Cubs baseball team, which shared the stadium with the Bears, did not want to convert it to a football configuration while the Cubs were still in playoff contention.
As a result, the Chicago Bears first home game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles was played at Northwestern University's Dyche Stadium. The Bears also treated this game as a trial run for possibly moving their home games to Evanston.
Dyche Stadium (since renamed Ryan Field), which did not have lights then (nor does it have permanent standards today), was planned to make the Bears' new home, but a deal fell through due to strong opposition from several athletic directors in the Big Ten Conference. Also, negotiations with the Cubs' ownership for continued use of Wrigley Field collapsed. As a result, the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 where they remain to the present day, save for a temporary relocation in 2002 to the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field was completely renovated.
On November 8, New Orleans Saints placekicker Tom Dempsey kicked a record 63-yard field goal. The record stood for 43 years (tied in 1998, 2011 and 2012) until it was broken in 2013 by Denver Broncos' Matt Prater.
The Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, and Los Angeles Rams all started 3–0 but lost in Week Four. Only the Lions would go on to the playoffs after the 3–0 start.
The NFL rules became the standardized rules for the merged league, with two exceptions that were both carried over from the AFL:The stadium's scoreboard clock became the official game clock.
The practice of having the players' last names added to the backs of their jerseys became universal. The old NFL teams did not have names on the back prior to this season, whereas the AFL teams did.
After experimenting with compromise rules regarding the two-point conversion (then exclusive to the AFL) during the late 1960s preseasons, the NFL decided not to use that feature and use its previous rule only allowing one point for any conversion. The two-point conversion would not be added to the NFL rules until 1994.
Starting in 1970, and until 2002, there were three divisions (Eastern, Central and Western) in each conference. The winners of each division, and a fourth "wild card" team based on the best non-division winner, qualified for the playoffs. The tiebreaker rules were changed to start with head-to-head competition, followed by division records, common opponents records, and conference play.
The New York Giants lost their last regular-season game. Had they won that game, they would have tied for first place in the NFC East division and taken the division championship on a tie-breaker; then, the tie-breakers would have led to a coin toss between Dallas and Detroit for the NFC wild card. Because of this close call regarding possible use of coin toss, future tie-breakers would be expanded to have more competitive aspects.
National Football Conference
American Football Conference
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
x – clinched wild card berth, y – clinched division title
Note: Prior to 1972, the NFL did not include tie games when calculating a team's winning percentage in the official standingsGreen Bay finished ahead of Chicago in the NFC Central based on better division record (2–4 to Bears' 1–5).
Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation.