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Three referees--Walt Fitzgerald, Bob Finley and George Rennix--retired following the 1970 season. Bob Frederic, Dick Jorgensen and Fred Wyant were promoted to fill those vacancies. Rich Eichhorst, a back judge in 1970, resigned to concentrate on officiating college basketball; he was replaced by Don Orr, who officiated in the league through 1995.
Major rule changes
Teams will not be charged a time out for an injured player unless the injury occurs inside the last two minutes of a half or overtime (since 1974).
Missed field goal attempts which cross the goal line can be run back. Previously, only those which fell short of the goal line could be returned; those which broke the plane of the goal line resulted in an automatic touchback.
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, record against common opponents, and records in conference play. More tiebreakers were provided in 1971 because, in 1970, reversing just one game's outcome would have led to a coin toss between Dallas and Detroit for the NFC wild card berth.
New England finished ahead of N.Y. Jets in the AFC East based on better point differential in head to head games, 13 points.
Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation of division winners. Had the playoffs been seeded, the divisional round matchups would have been #3 Cleveland at #2 Miami and #4 wild card Baltimore at #1 Kansas City in the AFC; #4 wild card Washington at #1 Minnesota and #3 San Francisco at #2 Dallas in the NFC.
11 teams played their home games on artificial turf in 1971. This was up from 7 teams in the NFL in 1970. The teams were: Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Francisco.