1992 Nfl Preview

September 06, 1992|By Vito Stellino

NFC EAST

last season

The Redskins won the division crown and went on to win the Super Bowl while the Cowboys earned a wild-card spot and beat the Chicago Bears in a wild-card game before being blown out by the Detroit Lions, 38-6.

New coaches

This is the only division in football in which all five coaches are returning this year, although Joe Gibbs of the Redskins is easily the senior member of the group. He's starting his 12th season. The other four have a total of seven full seasons of experience.

Coach on the bubble

Ray Handley of the New York Giants is only in his second year and Joe Bugel of the Phoenix Cardinals is only in his third season, but both could be in trouble. Handley took a Super Bowl team and went 8-8 while Bugel is 9-23 in his first two years.

Best player

Before he was sidelined with a knee injury last year, quarterback Randall Cunningham was the most exciting player in the game. If he's made a complete recovery -- and he apparently has -- he should pick up where he left off.

Team on rise

The Dallas Cowboys have gone from 1-15 to 7-9 to 11-5. They think the next step is the NFC title game, if not the Super Bowl. Don't be surprised, though, if they take a step backward instead of a step forward. Their offense can play with anybody, but they have holes on defense. They'll find out what where they're going when they play the Redskins, Giants and Eagles in their first four games.

Team in decline

Lawrence Taylor is getting old, the offense is sputtering and Ray Handley has yet to fill the shoes of Bill Parcells. The New York Giants are no longer super.

Key question

How can the Redskins handle the burden of being the defending champions? The last time they tried it, they had the only losing season season (7-9 in 1988) under coach Joe Gibbs. The Redskins say things will be different this time around. We'll see.

Outlook

This is often touted as the best division in pro football. It has produced four of the last six Super Bowl champions. It may not be quite as tough this year, but it's likely to be a wide open race. Only the Phoenix Cardinals are given no shot.

The Redskins have the best team and will be the favored, but they're trying to repeat and they struggled as the defending champion in 1988.

The Eagles are the popular choice because they went 10-6 without Randall Cunningham. But they have a habit of going 10-6 with him. They've never won a playoff game with him and now they've lost Jerome Brown.

The Cowboys like to see themselves as the team of the future, but their defense is still is vulnerable.

The Giants are a team in transition and they're aging, but they still could be dangerous.

The Cardinals, of course, are rebuilding. They've been doing that for four decades. Last season

The Detroit Lions won the division title and beat the Dallas Cowboys, 38-6, in their first playoff game before losing the NFC title game to the Redskins, 41-10. The Chicago Bears qualified as a wild-card team, but lost to the Cowboys, 17-13, in their first playoff game.

New coaches

This is now the Bill Walsh protege division, with Dennis Green taking over in Minnesota, Sam Wyche moving to Tampa Bay and Mike Holmgren getting the job in Green Bay. This gives new incentive to Mike Ditka, who was never one of Walsh's fans.

Coach on the bubble

None. With three newcomers joining Mike Ditka in Chicago and Wayne Fontes in Detroit, it's safe to predict that all five of these coaches will be back next year. A new coach usually gets a grace period as long as he's not Richard Williamson.

Best player

Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions is not only the best player in the division, he's one of the best in the game. Thurman Thomas doesn't like to hear this, but he's the best pure runner in the game and they're already preparing the bust for him in Canton. He could be even more dangerous now that the Lions have gone away from the run-and-shoot and are giving him more blocking.

Team on rise

Exhibition games can be misleading, but Dennis Green took a major step in turning around the Vikings this year. He gave an attitude change to a club noted for its whining malcontents.

Team in decline

It may not be possible for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to decline because they're so forlorn, but they're still not going anywhere. Bill Parcells is lucky he didn't get this job. It's a team that'll drive Sam Wyche wackier than he already is.

Key question

Can Detroit survive the loss of its two starting guards, Mike Utley and Eric Andolsek? When Mike Utley was paralyzed last November, the Lions used his "thumbs up" sign as a rallying cry as they made an emotional run to the NFC title game. Then their other guard, Andolsek, was killed in the off-season. That may be to much for them to overcome.

Outlook

This is no longer the cakewalk it used to be for the Bears when they could count on two wins a year against the Bucs, Packers and Lions, go 7-5 against the rest of the teams and post an 11-5 record.

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