Redskins

Turbulent NFC Boosts Redskins’ Comeback Hopes

by David Elfin
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith as its third coach in four years.  The franchise has reached the playoffs just twice since capturing the Super Bowl 11 years ago. (credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith as its third coach in four years. The franchise has reached the playoffs just twice since capturing the Super Bowl 11 years ago. (credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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Washington fans, you’re not alone in wallowing in grief about your football team’s failures. Five of the other six teams that fired their coaches during the last 19 days weren’t on mere one-year downslides.

And even Houston, which coldly canned Gary Kubiak on Dec. 6 barely a month after he suffered a “mini-stroke” during a game, hasn’t known a lot of success. Its first-round victories in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs both came against Cincinnati (which hasn’t triumphed in postseason in 33 years) and are the highlights of the 12-year-old franchise’s resume. Bill O’Brien is the Texans’ new coach.

Tampa Bay, which axed Greg Schiano and hired former Chicago coach/ex-Buccaneers linebackers coach Lovie Smith as its third coach in four years, has reached the playoffs just twice, going 0-2, since it captured the Super Bowl 11 years ago.

Tennessee, which replaced the homegrown Mike Munchak with former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, has made the playoffs five times since coming up just short in the Super Bowl 14 seasons ago but hasn’t done so since 2008. The Titans’ last postseason victory came in 2003, six years after they moved from Houston where, as the Oilers, they last won a title in 1961. Over the next 35 years, they reached postseason 12 times, claiming seven victories while losing the 1962 AFL Championship Game and the 1978 and 1979 AFC title games.

Minnesota has had the most recent success of the bunch, qualifying for five NFC Championship Games and 19 postseasons since its last Super Bowl appearance. However, that came in 1976 and dropped the Vikings to 0-4 in title games. The coach who replaces the ousted Leslie Frazier will be their eighth in 30 years since Hall of Famer Bud Grant retired after the 1983 season.

Cleveland, which preceded Houston as an expansion franchise by three years, has made the playoffs just once during its 15 seasons, losing a first-round game in 2002. Rob Chudzinski was fired on Dec. 29 after just one season. His successor will be the Browns’ eighth coach — including 2004 interim boss Terry Robiskie — since they were reborn.

While the old Browns have prospered as the Baltimore Ravens, northern Ohio last celebrated a championship in 1964. In the next 31 years before the franchise moved to Maryland, the Browns reached postseason 13 times, winning six games while coming up short in NFL Championship/AFC title games in 1965 (the last pre-Super Bowl year), 1968, 1969, 1986 and 1987.

Detroit is perhaps the biggest hardship case. Since the Lions last won a championship in 1957, they’ve made the playoffs just 10 times, winning only one game. That was in 1991 before they were crushed by the Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. Jim Schwartz guided them to postseason in 2012, but was fired two weeks ago so their next coach will be their eighth — counting 2005 interim boss Dick Jauron — since that 1991 playoff victory.

That horrid track record makes Washington’s five playoff trips and three victories since its last Super Bowl title 22 years ago this month seem almost acceptable. Jay Gruden, who replaced the fired Mike Shanahan on Jan. 9, will be the Redskins’ ninth coach – counting 2000 interim mentor Robiskie — during the last two-plus decades.

So Washington is far from unique in going through these struggles and coaching changes since its last championship. That’s surely small consolation to Redskins fans, but this should make them smile: it has been much easier to get to the Super Bowl in the NFC than from the AFC during this millennium.

Baltimore (2000, 2012), Indianapolis (2006, 2009), New England (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011) and Pittsburgh (2005, 2008, 2010) have won 12 of the last 13 AFC Championship Games with Oakland in 2002 the outlier. The Steelers and Ravens were eliminated from contention on the final Sunday of this season and the Colts lost in the divisional round last weekend, but the Patriots will qualify for their sixth Super Bowl berth in 13 years if they win in Denver on Sunday.

In contrast, the NFC has been crazy going back to 2000. The New York Giants (2000, 2007 and 2011) have won three NFC championship games during that span. That’s the entire list of recent, multiple NFC Super Bowl entrants although that will grow when either Seattle (2005) or San Francisco (2012) wins Sunday’s conference championship Game.

St. Louis (2001), Tampa Bay (2002), Carolina (2003), Philadelphia (2004), Chicago (2006), Arizona (2008), New Orleans (2009) and Green Bay (2010) have also represented the NFC of late.

What’s more, the Panthers played for a title just two years after a then-record worst 1-15 campaign while the Bears and the long-downtrodden Cardinals did so just two years after each finished 5-11. So the Redskins rising from their 3-13 disaster in 2013 to the ultimate game a couple years from now isn’t crazy after all.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.

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