Unfortunately for the Redskins, whose close-to-the-vest style of play has its critics, up the road a piece the Baltimore Colts have firepower to burn in entertaining their fans.
Bert Jones and Lydell Mitchell produced a lot of offense last year on the way to the playoffs for the second straight season under coach Ted Marchibroda. The Colts' 417 points topped by 41 the output of New England, another high-gear traveler, and were 66 more than that of the Los Angeles Rams, leaders of the National Conference.
The prospects are for more of the same in the American Conference's Eastern Division because the Patriots and Colts have the easiest and next-to-easiest schedules, respectively, on the basis of how their 1977 opponents played last year.
Off some spurts he had as a rookie from West Virginia in 1976 and in the preseason of this year. Ron Lee is showing signs of providing the kind of punch and blocking Baltimore has been looking for in a fullback since Alan (The Horse) Ameche retired. Lee has more speed.
All this helps explain why the Colts have not gotten much sympathy since their No. 1 draft choice, wide receiver Randy Burke of Kentucky, was injured and underwent surgery.The pass catching of Glenn Doughty. Freddie Scott and Ricky Thompson in exhibitiors may have hastened the return of hold-out wide receiver Roger Carr.
It is on defense that the Colts have been looking for help. They finished 15th in the league in that department despite 56 sacks, mostly by the defensive line. The holdout of end John Dutton became serious when No. 2 draft choice Mike Gzdowski of Virginia went out with an injury. Tom McLeod picked up the linebacking when he returned from an achilles tendon problem and cornerback Norm Thompson was a big boost when he came to Baltimore from the St. Louis Cardinals, but then Nelson Munsey was injured, as he was last season.
The Patriots had their best record ever, 11-3, with the sudden rise of quarterback Steve Grogan and the quick maturation of rookie defensive back Mike Haynes and Tim Fox. An acciaimed offensive line helped by the blocking of tight end Russ Francis permitted only 19 sacks.
The Patriots were second only to Pittsburgh in rushing, their 2.948 yards the fifth most in NFL history.
The defense had the most takeaways, 27 fumble recoveries and 23 interceptions, in the league and allowed the fewest points, 236, in their division.
The question mark in the division is Miami. Don Shula says after his first losing season, 6-8. "I'm approaching this year pretty much the same way I did with the job I had in 1970. I'm starting from the beginning and I'm not assuming anything." He is the NFL's winningest active coach, with a 144-47.5 record at Baltimore and Miami.
The Dolphins had nine operations on defensive players and finished 13th in the AFC in defense, with only 20 sacks and 11 interceptions. Defensive linemen Randy Crowder and Don Reese were convicted on charges of possession of cocaine. Shula did get back former defensive specialist Bill Arnsparger, fired as head coach of the New York Giants.
Quarterback Bob Griese has started throwing deep passes because of the speed of wide receivers Nat. Moore, Freddie Solomon and Duriel Harris.
The Buffalo bills have back quarterback Joe Ferguson, fullback Jim Braxton and, more reassuring, O.J. Simpson, who was concerned about blurred vision in his left eye.
Jim Ringo, beginning his first full season as head coach, says, "The obvious assignment is better defensive in the league in defense. Their No. 1 draft pick was defensive lineman Phil Dokes from Oklahoma State.
Because of Simpson and one of the league's most intimidating offensive lines, the Bills ranked third in rushing in the NFL even without the blocking and running of Braxton, who was injured all season. Ferguson was having one of his best seasons before he missed the last seven games with a back injury.
The New York Jets played 14 rookies last season, neatly half a dozen regularly on defense, while they still had Joe Namath.
Richard Todd, who replaces Namath, did lead the Jets to two of their three victories.
On offense, the Jets' quarterbacks were sacked 45 times. On denfense, the Jets had the fewest sacks in the league, 16. Their best rookie was middie line backer Greg Buttle from Penn State.
Their two top draft choices this year were offensive tackle Marvin Powell of Southern California and wide receiver Wesley Walker of california. Western Division
Disillusioning those fans who like to think that teams win Super Bowls with radical innovations. Oakland Raider coach John Madden says. "The most important thing now is that we don't do anything different or anything less than we have ever done."
That means Ken Stabler will continue to direct a passing attack that accounted for a league-high 33 touchdowns. He will be trying for his second straight passing title after completing 66.7 per cent of his throws in 1976. He has among his targets Cliff Branch, who averaged 24.2 yards a catch and led NFL receivers with 12 touchdowns. Fred Biletnikoff has had 40 or more receptions for 10 straight seasons. Dave Casper led the league's tight ends with 53 catches.
They were helped mightily by an offensive line that paved the way for a record 429 yards against Minnesota in the Super Bowl. The three-man defensive line was mainly responsible for opponents being held to an average of less than 12 points a game in the final eight regular-season and postseason games.
Once more, oakland's schedule is far from the hardest; in fact, it is the eighth easiest. Still, the Raiders will play three division winners, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles on the road an Minnesota at home.
The Denver Broncos have a new coach. Red Miller, who was defensive coordinator for the Patriots. His problem will be improving a team, built by John Ralston, which had its best year, 9-5, in 1976.
The defense ranked third in the AFC and shared the league lead with Minnesota by allowing only eight touchdown passes. Otis Armstrong is the heart of the offense and will be paired at running back with either Lon Perrin of Washington, D.C., or Jon Keyworth.
The Broncos traded starting quarterback Steve Ramsey to the Giants for Craig Morton, the likely new starter.
The San Diego Chargers have impressed coach Tommy Prothro so much that be may be inviting self-destruction if his team does not live up to his optimism: "We have many talented young players who are improving and will continue to do so . . . We feel we have a good chance to be in competition for a playoff berth (after a 6-8 record in 1976)."
Prothro was referving to such outstanding running backs as Joe Washington. Rickey Young. Don Woods and Bo Matthews. Johnny Rodgers will be used as a wide receiver and kick returner. The most encouraging news is that James Harris has settled in as a happy and highly effective quarterback after being acquired from the Rams.
The Kansas City Chiefs aroused interest on offense last season when Mike Livingston finally took over at quarterback from retired Lea Dawson and ranked No. 3 in the conference.
They finally have some outside speed in Tony Reed of Colorado. No. 2 draft choice, to go with rejuvenated veteran MacArthur Lane.
Tight end Walter White was second only to Oakland's Casper with 47 receptions. The Chiefs' probable problem is defense. They gave up more yards rushing than any other team in the club's history, finishing 14th in the AFC.
Seattle emphasized defense in its player acquisitions as an expansion teams in 1976, yet finished 14th in that department and eighth on offense. Quarterback Jim Zorn was a pleasant surprise. Now the Seahawks have been placed permanently in the AFC West instead of the NFC West and their growth is not expected to be sudden. Central Division
The Pittsburgh Steelers need to avoid the 1-4 start of last year as they strive to win a third Super Bowl with a young but veteran team. They have been distracted in the preseason by the holdout of middle linebacker Jack Lambert and a combination of troubles with cornerback Mel Blount, who wanted to renegotiate his contract or become a free agent and hoped to accomplish that by sning coach Chuck Noll for $5 million for being included in Noll's "criminal element in pro football."
Otherwise, except for the retirement of outside linebacker Andy Russell, the Steelers figure to be ready to add to the nine straight victories that took them into the playoffs. Franco Harris, Rockly Bleier and Terry Bradshaw are again healthy.
The Cincinnati Bengals did not make the playoffs with a 10-4 records, but once more have improved by drafting two top defensive linemen. Eddie Edwards of Miami (Fla.) and Wilson Whitley of Houston. They got 248-pound fullback Pete Johnson of Ohio State on the second round to go with former Buckeye teammale Archie Griffin. The Bengals were No. 2 in defense in the AFC in 1976, No. 10 on offense.
The Cleveland Browns are not sure yet how significant their 9-5 record was last year, but they are moved to be hopeful by the improvement on defense, which went from 19th in the league in 1975 to ninth. They now have Earl Edwards to replace the departed Walter Johnson at defensive tackle with standout Jerry Sherk.
Most of the contention over quarterbacks should be over with the job harded to Brian Sipe after the trade of Mike Phipps to the Bears. Sipe has good options in wide receiver Paul Warfield and running backs Greg Pruitt, a member of the 1,000-yard club, Cleo Miller and Mike Pruitt.
The Houston Oilers are trying to come back after slumping from 10-4 in 1975 to 5-9 last year. They still have the defense ranked No. 5 in the conference, mostly because of linebacker Robert Brazile. Ted Washington, GRegg Bingham and Steve Kiner.
An offense that slipped to a No. 12 rating is expected to prosper with two rookle running backs. Tim Wilson of Maryland and Rob Carpenter of Miami (Ohio), to fit in with Dan Pasterinl's passing to speedy wide receivers Billy (White Shoes: Johnson and Ken Burrough.