A hard look at NFL '91 Washington is only team in 28 that can justify a grade of 'A'

December 26, 1991|By Gary Myers | Gary Myers,New York Daily News

This was the year of no Joe Montana and no Bo Jackson and only 15 minutes of Randall Cunningham. But it was also the Season of The Rebound, with Detroit winning its first division title since 1983, Dallas getting in the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1985 and Atlanta getting in for the first time since 1982.

And then there are the New York Jets. They have been away from the postseason since 1986, and although their 8-8 record doesn't put them up there with the other rebounders, their invitation gets them in the door. And that's all you need.

But how about this: With New Orleans winning the NFC West for the first time and Houston winning the AFC Central for the first time, the Jets are now the only team not to win a divisional championship since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. In two or three years, that should end.

Still, it has been a good season for the Jets. General manager Dick Steinberg and coach Bruce Coslet are carefully building a very solid team. Getting playoff experience this season is a bonus.

The New York Giants, on the other hand, have grown old all at once. General manager George Young has a lot of work to do. And with the Giants in the toughest division in the NFL, things could get worse before they get better. Washington won 14 games and has the sixth pick in the draft. The Eagles beat the Giants twice without Cunningham. And the Cowboys won 11 games and now have six picks in the first three rounds. Coach Ray Handley should be lots of fun next year.

Here's the report card on the 1991 season:

NFC EAST

Redskins (14-2): A

* The Skins provided the only relief in what otherwise has been a so-so year in Washington. Nobody scored more than their 485 points -- Indy, Tampa and Phoenix combined for only 538 -- and only New Orleans gave up fewer than their 224. Joe Gibbs deserves to be Coach of the Year.

Cowboys (11-5): B+

* It's OK to hate the Cowboys again if you like. It has been six years since they have been good enough to even care about and only two years since 1-15. Jimmy Johnson may be the shrewdest operator in the NFL. Even losing Troy Aikman didn't hurt because Emmitt Smith led the NFL in rushing, Michael Irvin led the NFC in receiving and Steve Beuerlein, who cost only a No. 4 draft choice, was 4-0 plus a save in Washington subbing for Aikman.

Eagles (10-6): B-

* Coach Rich Kotite did a great job squeezing out 10 victories after losing Randall Cunningham early in the first game. But Philadelphia blew it all by losing to Dallas when that great defense gave up an 80-yard drive against the wind in the fourth quarter. If Cunningham is OK next year, the Eagles are my early pick to win it all.

Giants (8-8): C-

* Ray Handley improved Bill Parcells' leverage with the Packers and the Bucs by the way he mishandled the Super Bowl champs this year. He made Parcells look like a genius. Certainly, the players take a great deal of the blame, too, but Handley better get it together in the offseason.

Cardinals (4-12): D

* How easy to forget that the Cardinals opened by beating the Rams and the Eagles and were the talk of the league. They won only two of their last 14. And they are without their No. 1 pick, given up in a not-so-hot trade for Randall Hill.

NFC CENTRAL

Lions (12-4): B+

* They lost their first two games after Rodney Peete went down, against the Bears and the Buccaneers. They broke the losing streak the next week against the Rams, but that's the game when Mike Utley was paralyzed. Still, this emotionally devastated team won its last six with Erik Kramer as quarterback and Barry Sanders running wild. This story will end soon, but it may be the most improbable one of the season.

Bears (11-5): B

* I haven't been sold on the Bears all season. They were lucky early against the Bucs, the Giants and the Jets, but skidded into the playoffs losing three of five, including the humiliating 52-14 loss to the 49ers Monday night. How did coach Mike Ditka get 11 victories out of this bunch?

Vikings (8-8): C

* C as in see you later. Coach Jerry Burns is gone, and many of his high-priced underachieving players soon will follow. Minnesota had the easy fifth-place schedule and could do better than .500. They need a coach who will come in and kick butt but have no shot at Parcells.

Packers (4-12): D

* This franchise fell apart when Don Majkowski turned into the first Don Majkowski rather than the next Joe Montana, as many foolishly thought he would. A bad shoulder means the Pack needs a new quarterback. First, they will make a big run at Parcells.

Buccaneers (3-13): D-

* It's the Bucs vs. the Packers vs. NBC for Parcells. Owner Hugh Culverhouse needs to outbid them all to win back the fans. Parcells to Tampa has been the rumor since the Super Bowl. We'll know if it's true in the next few days. If it is, two words for Parcells: Good luck. This team has lost at least 10 games for nine straight years and is minus its No. 1 draft pick, which is second overall.

NFC WEST

Saints (11-5): B

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