The National Football League playoffs for the 1978 season began on December 24, 1978. The postseason tournament concluded with the Pittsburgh Steelers defeating the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, 35–31 on January 21, 1979 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
This was the first year that the playoffs expanded to a ten-team format….thus 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. The Houston Oilers defeated the Miami Dolphins 17 – 9 in the 1st AFC Wild Card Playoffs….while the Atlanta Falcons beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1st NFC Wild Card Playoffs of 1978.
Within each conference, the three division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The three division winners were seeded 1 through 3 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams were seeded 4 and 5. The NFL did not use a fixed bracket playoff system. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the fourth seed wild card hosted the fifth seed. All three division winners from each conference then received a bye in the first round. The second round, the divisional playoffs, had a restriction where two teams from the same division could not meet: the surviving wild card team visited the division champion outside its own division that had the higher seed, and the remaining two teams from that conference played each other. The two surviving teams from each conference’s divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, was played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
The Houston Oilers defeated the New England Patriots 31 – 17 and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Denver Broncos 33 – 10 in the AFC Divisional Playoffs…..while the Dallas Cowboys beat the Atlanta Falcons 27 – 20 and the L A Rams defeated the Minnesota Vikings 34 – 10 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs in 1978.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Houston Oilers 34 – 9 in the AFC Championship game…..while the Dallas Cowboys defeated the L A Rams 27 – 0 in the NFC Championship game…..to set up Super Bowl XIII between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers…..in what would turn out to be one of the best Super Bowl games of all time….as the Steelers won 35 – 31 in a historic game filled with historic plays.