From start to finish, two teams overshadowed everyone else during the 1991 NFL season. The Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills emerged very quickly as the teams to beat in their respective conferences. Both teams backed it up by getting the #1 seed in the playoffs. Both teams took care of business and reached the Super Bowl. And when all was said and done, the ’91 Redskins went into the books not only as champions, but as one of the great teams of all time.
The Redskins and Bills may hold the historical keys to this 1991 NFL season, but there were plenty of stories underneath the surface, including the following…
*A competitive divisional race between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. For much of the year, it looked like Mike Ditka’s Bears would again triumph in the old NFC Central. But the Lions, with a rising star at running back in Barry Sanders, stole the division in the final week. Chicago said a quick goodbye in the playoffs, while Detroit reached the NFC Championship Game.
*The AFC West produced three playoff teams in the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Raiders. Led by John Elway, the Broncos pulled out the divisional race and went on to the AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs and Raiders played head-to-head in the wild-card round at Arrowhead.
*The great football state of Texas produced two contenders. The Houston Oilers had been on the map for the past several years as a steady playoff team, with a wide open passing attack led by Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. The Dallas Cowboys were an emerging force under Jimmy Johnson’s coaching. A team that would soon become a dynasty made its first appearance on the playoff stage in 1991.
*Atlanta had the colorful Jerry Glanville as their head coach and the more colorful Deion Sanders in their defensive backfield. The Falcons made it into the playoffs. Then they upset the New Orleans Saints, a team that started the year looking ready to keep pace with the Redskins, before showing cracks down the stretch.
*The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets went right to the wire for the final playoff berth in the AFC. It came down to a head-to-head battle in the final game of the regular season. The Jets pulled it out and sent Dan Marino to a surprisingly early exit.
*The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers had defined the entire sport the previous two seasons. They ran 1-2 in the NFC and each had won a Super Bowl. The Giants went through a coaching change and a bad year in 1991. The 49ers endured injuries at quarterback and even though they finished 10-6, it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs in a stacked NFC. San Francisco, along with Philadelphia, were hard-luck 10-win teams that stayed home.
*Two old rivals–the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns–weren’t contenders, but they were historic in their own way. In Pittsburgh, 1991 was the final season in the great coaching career of Chuck Noll. The man who built the great Steel Curtain Dynasty of the 1970s said goodbye. In Cleveland, a new coaching career was underway. Bill Belichick got his first opportunity to be a head coach.
The links below will take you to the season-long narrative of all 18 of these teams. Read about their key players and go on a game-by-game narrative. The articles are a great way to experience the 1991 NFL season all over again.