The 2003 NFL season was the 84th regular season of the National Football League (NFL).
Regular-season play was held from September 4, 2003, to December 28, 2003. Due to damage caused by the Cedar Fire, Qualcomm Stadium was used as an emergency shelter, and thus the Miami Dolphins-San Diego Chargers regular-season match on October 27 was instead played at Sun Devil Stadium, the home field of the Arizona Cardinals.
The playoffs began on January 3, 2004. The NFL title was won by the New England Patriots when they defeated the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, in Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, on February 1.
This was the last season until the 2016 NFL season where neither of the previous Super Bowl participants made the playoffs.
Major rule changes
- If an onside kick inside the final five minutes of the game does not go 10 yards, goes out of bounds, or is touched illegally, the receiving team will have the option of accepting the penalty and getting the ball immediately. Previously, the kicking team was penalized, but had another chance to kick again from five yards back.
- League officials encouraged networks to immediately cut to a commercial break if an instant replay challenge review was initiated. Previously networks were generally not permitted to utilize those game stoppages for their prescribed commercial periods.
Dick Hantak and Bob McElwee retired in the 2003 off-season. Hantak joined the league as a back judge in 1978, and was assigned Super Bowl XVII in that position. He was promoted to referee in 1986, working Super Bowl XXVII. McElwee joined the NFL in 1976 as a line judge, and became a referee in 1980. He was the referee for three Super Bowls: XXII, XXVIII, and XXXIV. Walt Anderson and Pete Morelli were promoted to referee to replace Hantak and McElwee.
Final regular-season standings
- Indianapolis finished ahead of Tennessee in the AFC South based on better head-to-head record (2-0).
- Denver clinched the AFC 6 seed instead of Miami based on better conference record (9-3 to 7-5).
- Buffalo finished ahead of N.Y. Jets in the AFC East based on better division record (2-4 to 1-5).
- Jacksonville finished ahead of Houston in the AFC South based on better division record (2-4 to 1-5).
- Oakland finished ahead of San Diego in the AFC West based on better conference record (3-9 to 2-10).
- Philadelphia clinched the NFC 1 seed instead of St. Louis based on better conference record (9-3 to 8-4).
- Seattle clinched the NFC 5 seed instead of Dallas based on strength of victory (.406 to .388).
Within each conference, the four 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 four division winners are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams are seeded 5 and 6. The NFL does not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there are no restrictions regarding teams from the same division matching up in any round. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the third-seeded division winner hosts the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosts the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then receive a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosts the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5 or 6), while the number 2 seed will play the other team (seed 3, 4 or 5). 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, is played at a neutral site, the designated home team is based on an annual rotation by conference.
- * Indicates overtime victory
- ** Indicates double overtime victory
The following teams and players set all-time NFL records during the season:
||Player or team
||Previous record holder|
|Most Touchdowns, Season
||Priest Holmes, Kansas City (27)
||December 28, vs. Chicago
||Marshall Faulk, St. Louis, 2000 (26)
|Most Rushing Yards Gained, Game
||Jamal Lewis, Baltimore (295)
||September 14, vs. Cleveland
||Corey Dillon, Cincinnati vs. Denver, October 22, 2000 (278)
|Most Consecutive Field Goals
||Mike Vanderjagt, Indianapolis
||December 28, at Houston
||Gary Anderson, 1997-98 (40)
|Most Consecutive Road Games Lost
||December 21, vs. Carolina
||Houston Oilers, 1981-84 (23)
|Most consecutive games with a sack
||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (69)
||November 9, 2003
||Dallas Cowboys (68)
||Jeff Wilkins, St. Louis (163 points)
||Priest Holmes, Kansas City (27 TDs)
|Most field goals made
||Jeff Wilkins, St. Louis (39 FGs)
||Jamal Lewis, Baltimore (2,066 yards)
||Steve McNair, Tennessee (100.4 rating)
||Brett Favre, Green Bay (32 TDs)
||Torry Holt, St. Louis (117 catches)
|Pass receiving yards
||Torry Holt, St. Louis (1,696)
|Pass receiving touchdowns
||Randy Moss, Minnesota (17 touchdowns)
||Dante Hall, Kansas City (16.3 average yards)
||Jerry Azumah, Chicago (29.0 average yards)
||Brian Russell, Minnesota and Tony Parrish, San Francisco (9)
||Shane Lechler, Oakland (46.9 average yards)
||Michael Strahan, New York Giants (18.5)
|Most Valuable Player
||Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis and Steve McNair, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
|Coach of the Year
||Bill Belichick, New England
|Offensive Player of the Year
||Jamal Lewis, running back, Baltimore
|Defensive Player of the Year
||Ray Lewis, linebacker, Baltimore
|Offensive Rookie of the Year
||Anquan Boldin, wide receiver, Arizona
|Defensive Rookie of the Year
||Terrell Suggs, linebacker, Baltimore
|NFL Comeback Player of the Year
||Jon Kitna, Quarterback, Cincinnati
|Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year
||Will Shields, Guard, Kansas
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player
||Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England
The 2003 NFL Draft was held from April 26 to 27, 2003 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the Cincinnati Bengals selected quarterback Carson Palmer from the University of Southern California.