Perhaps we lifelong Redskin followers are a bit paranoid. Nevertheless, the annoying impression here, after a weekend of playoff watching, is that America thinks the NFL's final four contains three glamor teams and one quaint, homely underdog from Washington.
More likely, the four teams left in the Strike Sweepstakes are as nearly equal as a computer could create. A statistical analysis shows that all are very good, none excellent. More important, if you're talking facts, not image, then the Redskins don't take a back seat to anybody when it comes to having realistic chances of winning a Super Bowl.
For starters, let's replace some myths with numbers.
First, this season the AFC was not significantly stronger than the NFC. In head-to-head games, the AFC had a mere one-game edge.
The AFC had more good teams than the NFC, but it also had more lousy ones, including the two worst clubs in the NFL--Baltimore and Houston. The NFC was deep in respectable teams, borne out by the fact that the 49ers, Giants and Eagles couldn't reach the playoffs. Net result: two roughly equal conferences.
So, the Redskins' 10-1 record--the best among the four finalists--shouldn't be denigrated as having been built in a second-class conference.
Second, it's been said that, thanks to the seven games lost to the strike, the Redskins have gone from having the toughest schedule in the NFL to playing a weak schedule. What nonsense.
Of the four playoff teams left, Washington played the second-toughest schedule. Including the playoffs, the Redskins' opponents had a 50-40 record (.555), excluding their games against Washington. For comparison, the Jets' opponents had the best combined record (not counting games against the Jets)--.588. Miami faced the weakest schedule (.538); Dallas' opponents were .552.
Third, it was noted all season that the Redskins weren't beating their victims as convincingly as might be associated with a champion. After winning its last four games by 107 to 24, Washington's point differential is now as good as anybody's. The Redskins have outscored their opponents by 100 points (242 to 142). The only other teams who have cracked this 100-point barrier are, as you might expect, the Dolphins (103), Cowboys (105) and Jets (109).
Again, there's hardly a whisker's difference among the final four.
If a Redskins fan wanted to be obnoxious, he could point out that Washington has scored 70 percent more points than its foes--the best margin of superiority in the NFL.
Fourth, it's constantly said that the Redskins haven't beaten anybody.
Not true. Washington has almost as many quality victories as any team. Let's measure these "quality" victories in three different ways.
* What's Washington's record in games against teams that finished with a .500 (or better) record in all their non-Redskin games? Answer: 7-1. Dallas and the Jets have also played eight such games and have 6-2 records; Miami's mark is 6-0.
* What's Washington's record against teams that made the playoffs? Answer: 5-1. Against playoff-quality teams, the Jets are 7-2, Dallas is 6-2 and Miami 5-2.
* What is Washington's record against teams that were alive as late as last weekend? Answer: 1-1. The Jets are 2-2 in such games; Miami and Dallas have records of 3-0 and 2-0, respectively.
Fifth, for most of the season, the Redskins had a meager edge over opponents in yardage--another argument that they weren't as strong as teams like the Cowboys, Chargers or Jets. Well, that's changed.
When you combine total yardage and penalty yardage, the Redskins have outgained their opponents by 726 yards; the Cowboys have an edge of 721 yards, the Dolphins 954 and the Jets only 536.
Finally, let's make one point perfectly clear.
The Redskins, not the Miami Dolphins, are the team with the right to claim the best defense in the NFL. Washington has played a tougher schedule than Miami and given up fewer points, 142 to 157. Washington has allowed only 10.8 points a game over its last 10 games. Somebody tell John Brodie.
Perhaps, a week from now, all this will seem foolish. The Cowboys have burst many an upstart team's bubble.
Nonetheless, the numbers say that:
The Redskins have the NFL's best record (10-1) and its stingiest defense.
The Redskins have done this against a solid schedule, not a weak one. (Washington has played only one game all season against a patsy--New Orleans with Guido Merkens.)
The Redskins, measured by both point differential and cumulative yardage, have been as powerful as the other teams in the final four.
Washington and Miami are the NFL's two hottest teams and its two best defensive teams. History says that hot clubs with strong defenses that get to play the conference championship game on their home field often meet in the Super Bowl.