A Numbers Game: What Does Week 1 Mean?

Dallas Cowboys, David Neupauer, New York Giants, Numbers game

In Week 1 of the 2011 season, we witnessed pre-season favorites like the Saints, Steelers and Falcons suffer a season-opening setback.  In all, 6 teams from the 2010 playoffs lost.  Strictly speaking, it is just 1 of 16 games.  But I wondered, does Week 1 carry any predictive power regarding who will go on to make the playoffs?

We took the playoff teams for each year since 1966 and charted how many of them won in Week 1 (blue line).  We also looked at their winning percentages for the full season (grey line and shading).  Then, just for laughs, checked how Super Bowl winners fared in Week 1 (black dots denote losses).  For example, in 2010, playoff teams won 66.7% of their games in Week 1 (8 of 12 playoff teams won).  For the full year, playoff teams had a winning percentage of 68.2%, and the Super Bowl Champion Packers won their opener (so, no dot). Here are the full results:

What can we learn from this chart?  In the last 45 years, teams that made the playoffs won their Week 1 games 71.8% of the time, slightly better than their winning percentage of 69.3% over the full season.  So, basically, Week 1 is a (slightly better than) fair representation of how playoff teams will do on any given Sunday through the season.  Little more.  If 2011 is like the average season, we can expect that eight or nine Week 1 winners will make the playoffs, leaving just three or four spots for Week 1 losers.

What about Super Bowl winners?  They won the opener 85% of the time.  The last decade saw that percentage take a hit.  As of 2000, Super Bowl winners had won 91% of their openers.  But a string of Week 1 losses from 2001 to 2003 (Pats, Bucs, Pats again) knocked that down a bit.  Since 2003, only one Super Bowl winner has lost its opener: the 2007 New York Giants.  But take heart Giants fans, New York lost its opener in 2 of its 3 Super Bowl winning seasons.  Below, we look back on New York’s 2007 Week 1 loss to the Cowboys.

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