Call it advantage Redskins at 14-2 Historically, playoffs favor NFL's best

December 24, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

The NFL playoffs are no place for underdogs or Cinderellas.

A snarling linebacker likely would smash Cinderella's glass slipper in the playoffs.

That's because the upperdogs -- the teams with the best records -- tend to thrive. It's a time when the rich tend to get richer.

When the Washington Redskins finished their regular season with a 14-2 record Sunday, they were the 10th team to finish 14-2 or better since the NFL went to a 16-game format in 1978.

Of the first nine teams to do it, seven went to the Super Bowl and five won it.

That's why the Redskins seem to have everything going for them as they look ahead to their playoff opener in two weeks, even though they lost their season finale to the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-22.

They've got a week off, they've got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (they're 7-1 in home playoff games under coach Joe Gibbs), they've got the best record in the NFL and they've beaten four of the five other NFC playoff teams.

They beat the Detroit Lions, 45-0, the Atlanta Falcons, 56-17, the Chicago Bears, 20-7, and split with Dallas, beating the Cowboys in Dallas, 33-31, and losing to them at home, 24-21.

They won't know until this weekend which team they'll play. They'll play Atlanta if the Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints. If the Falcons lose, they'll play the winner of the game between Dallas and either Detroit or Chicago.

After the Redskins watched the videotape yesterday of their loss to the Eagles Sunday, they insisted they didn't care which team they'll play in the playoffs.

Cornerback Darrell Green said: "We're in the playoffs. You can't be worrying about who you're playing. The fortunate thing is that we're in and we're going to play at home no matter who comes. You're not going to be able to say, 'Well, I know we're going to beat this team.' That's not going to happen."

The Redskins will take the next three days off, practice Friday and Saturday and then return Monday to start work on their next opponent.

"I would think more than anything we can clear our minds and enjoy the holiday and come back fresh with a new vigor and go for it," Green said.

It's logical to expect that the Redskins would rather play an Atlanta team they beat by 39 points -- even though the Falcons didn't have cornerback Deion Sanders or quarterback Chris Miller -- than a Dallas team that has won in RFK Stadium three times in the past four years.

Not only wouldn't the Redskins admit that, but coach Joe Gibbs also was quick to insist it would be dangerous to play a team such as Atlanta that the Redskins routed the first time. He noted that the Redskins beat Philadelphia, 23-0, but lost the second game Sunday.

The comparison isn't apt because the Eagles game was meaningless to the Redskins, but Gibbs likes to avoid the favorite's role.

"The chances are we're going to play a close game. You get in the playoffs and it's a one-game shootout. What'll make it tough . . . is that we've already played them [four of the five teams]. It makes it tough to turn around now and play them [in the playoffs]," Gibbs said.

Looking at the season overall, Gibbs said it was "probably the best year I've had in coaching."

He lauded the players for being "awfully responsible, awfully focused" and said they played extremely hard and did a "a lot that is great."

Gibbs, though, added that as a coach, he always looks at the last game. He said that if the Redskins have seven drops, 11 penalties, a blocked punt and a turnover the way they did against the Eagles, "anybody can beat us."

If the Redskins team that went 14-2 shows up in the playoffs, it's unlikely that anybody can beat it.

NOTES: Gibbs hinted that if the Eagles hadn't gotten a third-period sack to deny the Redskins a chance at the record for fewest sacks, he might not have pulled QB Mark Rypien in the third period. He said he wanted to get the sack record for the linemen and had told Rypien to unload the ball to try to preserve it. But on the first sack by William Thomas, Jim Lachey missed a call and Thomas came in untouched. . . . The Redskins complained about the call on A.J. Johnson in the fourth quarter for staying out of bounds too long on a punt. It forced a second punt that was blocked. Gibbs said that the Eagles knocked Johnson out of bounds and then prevented him from returning to the field. On the block, Monte Coleman moved from left to right because Stephen Hobbs had a concussion and Otis Smith beat Andre Collins. John Brandes' snap was high and to the right and Kelly Goodburn was forced to kick it toward Smith.

14-2 and better

The 14-2 Washington Redskins are the 10th team to go 14-2 or better in the regular season since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Here's how those 9 teams fared in the playoffs:

Year Team .. .. .. .. Regular-season record Playoffs

1978 Pittsburgh .. .. 14-2 Won Super Bowl

1983 Washington .. .. 14-2 Lost Super Bowl

1984 San Francisco .. 15-1 Won Super Bowl

1984 Miami .. .. .. ..14-2 Lost Super Bowl

1985 Chicago .. .. .. 15-1 Won Super Bowl

1986 N.Y. Giants .. ..14-2 Won Super Bowl

1986 Chicago .. .. .. 14-2 Lost in first round

1989 San Francisco .. 14-2 Won Super Bowl

1990 San Francisco .. 14-2 Lost NFC title game

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