The Washington Redskins will be a slightly better team this season than they were last year. But they will never be a better betting proposition than they were on their way to winning Super Bowl XVII. And, in all probability, they will not repeat as champions of the NFL.
The Redskins were 12-1 over the strike-shortened 1982-83 schedule; they were 11-2 against the point spread. Dallas beat them, 24-10, at RFK on Dec. 5 as a two-point favorite and the New York Giants covered in RFK on Dec. 19 as a three-point underdog in losing, 15-14.
Washington failed to cover in all four exhibitions last summer. The team was not favored in the regular season until Game 4, at home against Philadelphia. The Redskins were favored in their last six before being a two-point underdog at home against Dallas for the National Football Conference title.
In the Super Bowl, Miami was favored by 3. The Dolphins, competing in the stronger American Football Conference, were 9-3 against the spread before losing in Pasadena.
Miami was listed at 12 to 1 in the Las Vegas future book on the 1983 Super Bowl. Do you remember what Washington was? If you quoted any price lower than 35 to 1, you are wrong. The Redskins had only Houston, Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore behind them in preseason popularity with bettors.
Much of the reason for Miami's being favored by 3 in the Super Bowl centered on the Don Shula-Bill Arnsparger mystique. There was nothing wrong with that, except that Joe Gibbs and his staff deserved a higher rating for the job they had done.
Going into this season, Gibbs continues to be the biggest betting edge Washington has. Everybody knows about the Hogs by now and that Joe Theismann can quarterback almost as smartly as he can talk. Art Monk, the team's best receiver who missed the playoffs, will be back before long. And any contribution Joe Washington can make is certain to take some of the pressure off John Riggins.
But Gibbs is still underrated. It is going to take time, apparently, for many observers to realize just how good he is. Maybe that is because he is low-key and supposedly colorless. All he does, more often that not, is outthink and outprepare his opponents.
The Super Bowl was a classic case in point. With Monk out, Theismann had only the Smurfs to throw to and, had Gibbs not come up with some gimmicks, Miami's excellent defense would have been able to cheat against Riggins and the run. But Gibbs gave the Dolphins' defense enough different looks in the passing situations that Miami never was able to perform with the confidence that was its trademark. Gibbs had Shula offbalance. Unexpectedly, Miami had to respect Washington's passing offense--and Riggins had room to run.
Gibbs is special. You know it and I know it, but such recognition comes slowly in the land of the Landrys. Gibbs is not afraid to gamble when the occasion calls for it, particularly on defense.
Only the offensive line, Riggins and Theismann could be labeled money in the bank. The defensive front still needs help and the secondary, with Tony Peters gone and Jeris White holding out, is suddenly suspect. But Gibbs will make the most of everything he's got. Indeed, you can bet on it or, rather, on him.
Whereas San Francisco's Bill Walsh wore his ego on his sleeve during and after his Super Bowl season of 1981-82, Gibbs appears embarrassed by the word "genius." He is going to wear very well in the NFL, aided by the fact that General Manager Bobby Beathard is as good as any operative in the talent scout competition.
San Francisco fell on its face at 3-6 last year as defending Super Bowl champion. Oakland couldn't hit .500 in 1980-81 after winning the Super Bowl in 1980. Both were flawed--the 49ers by Walsh's wonderful impression of himself and the Raiders by jittery Jim Plunkett.
Washington is going to be a much better defending champion than those two were. I thought the Redskins were "a year or two away" last year. An 11-5 record looks about right, barring key injuries, and that should be good enough to make the playoffs. From there, who knows? Except that repeating in the Super Bowl is always a longshot.
The schedule is tough, inasmuch as the East is the strongest division in the NFC. The only soft spot is Kansas City here Sept. 18. Nobody wants to play the Raiders or San Diego. The Redskins must.
Still, Washington is in the right conference. Dallas is the only NFC rival, going in, on a par with the AFC's Chargers, Raiders, New York Jets, Dolphins and Bengals. Getting to the Super Bowl is so much easier in the NFC, as the Las Vegas future book for this season suggests.
It's Dallas 4 to 1, San Diego 5 to 1, Miami 8 to 1, New York Jets 8 to 1, Washington 10 to 1, San Francisco 10 to 1, Cincinnati 10 to 1, Philadelphia 15 to 1, Pittsburgh 15 to 1, Los Angeles Raiders 15 to 1, Green Bay 20 to 1, Atlanta 20 to 1, Los Angeles Rams 25 to 1, Minnesota 25 to 1, New England 25 to 1, Cleveland 25 to 1, Detroit 30 to 1, Tampa Bay 30 to 1, Buffalo 30 to 1, Denver 30 to 1, New York Giants 40 to 1, Chicago 40 to 1, St. Louis 70 to 1, New Orleans 75 to 1, Kansas City 100 to 1, Seattle 100 to 1, Houston 120 to 1 and Baltimore 150 to 1.
I wouldn't touch that price on the Redskins. I doubt they'll do better than 9-7 against the spread this year. Look someplace else for the kind of 11-2 bargain they provided last season. I only wish I'd have tapped into that gold vein more often.