Written By: Kristen Mori
I heard recently that, after week one, your favorite team is never as bad as you think they are, nor are they as good as you think they are. In statistical terms, fans tend to extrapolate one game into the entire season, for better or for worse. Basically, we like to overreact.
There’s a lot to learn from week one of the 2018 NFL season, but there are many more question marks. Should Bucs fans rejoice because they had a dominant offensive performance without their starting quarterback? Should Lions fans panic because they completely laid an egg in prime time? To answer these questions, I decided to look at NFL history-at least, since the addition of the most recent team, the Houston Texans, in 2002. I looked at each team’s week one results and checked how past teams with similar results fared in the remainder of their season.
Atlanta Falcons (L, 12-18)
The Falcons put up a good fight against the reigning champions but unfortunately came up just short. Since 2002, a team has fallen by six seventeen times. Those teams have gone on to win an average of 6.6 games in the regular season, and only four of those have reached the playoffs. Of those four, only one actually won their playoff game - fortunately for Falcons fans, this was the 2002 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hope is not lost!
Since losing by six is fairly specific, let’s instead look at teams that lost their week one matchups by one score, so 8 or less. These teams fared slightly better in the regular season, earning an average of 7.2 wins, and about 28% of them reached the playoffs. However, the 2002 Bucs remain the only Super Bowl winner of the week one, close game losers.
Keep in mind, Falcons fans: you played against the reigning champs. A close loss to a good team is very likely more meaningful than a close loss to any old team!
Buffalo Bills (L, 3-47)
The 2018 Buffalo Bills are the first team in over 15 years to lose by 44 points on opening day. The 2003 Chicago Bears, however, lost by 42, and ended up going 7-9, a record which most Bills fans would probably kill for at this point. Instead, let’s look at week one teams that failed to score more than 8. There are 47 such teams, averaging 6.3 regular-season wins (again, I think Bills fans would be happy to see a six-win season with the way they played on Sunday). In fact, 8 of those 47 actually reached the playoffs.
In fact, Bills fans can rejoice! One of those teams actually won the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the 2003 New England Patriots were shut out 31-0 by the Buffalo Bills and ended up winning the Super Bowl.
If we filter the data even more and look at teams who failed to score more than one field goal, we find that 18 teams have done this, with 5.9 average wins and three playoff appearances. Of course, the 2003 Patriots are included in this bunch, too. Yes, Bills fans, I am saying there’s a chance.
New York Giants (L, 15-20)
Unsurprisingly, the results of teams losing by 5 are very similar to teams losing by 6. Thirteen teams have lost by 5 in week one. They have gone on to win seven games on average, and 5 of those thirteen have reached the playoffs. Unfortunately, Giants fans, only one of those playoffs teams won a postseason game, and that was all the way back in 2003 (Green Bay Packers and they lost their second game). However, scroll up and read the description for the Atlanta Falcons - teams that lost in a one-score game have had some moderate success. And again, the Giants fell to a team that was in the AFC Championship game last year; in other words, they had a tough opponent and still lost by only 5.
Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans (L, 20-27)
Since 2002, the week one seven-point losers have won an average of 7.24 games over the course of the season. However, if we dig a little deeper, we see that since 2012, teams that lost by 7 in week one have won at least eight games in the regular season. Since 2014, such teams have all reached the playoffs, including the 2015 Houston Texans. While the results may look bleak, if the trend indicates anything, the Texans just might put together a solid season in 2018. I will also suggest that Texans and Titans fans check out the Atlanta Falcons section above, where I describe the success of teams that lost by just one score.
The Tennessee Titans suffered an identical loss (score-wise) as their fellow AFC South team, the Texans, and also to an AFC East foe. Fortunately for everyone, there is no past data on games that lasted as long as this one did; I’m confident that the length of the delay and the weather conditions had an impact on their performance. Of course, that also had an effect on the victors’ performance, but the Titans had to be the road team on top of that; in other words, the odds were stacked against them.
I looked at teams that scored exactly 20 points in their opener and, as one might expect, the results were quite average. Almost half the teams won that game; slightly over half lost. Those teams ended up with an average of 7.6 wins per season. The 2018 Titans and Texans could end up like the 15-1 Carolina Panthers of 2015, or the 4-12 Buccaneers of 2011. About a third of such teams wind up in the postseason, and actually, two Super Bowl Champions started their campaigns by scoring 20 points, as recent as the 2014 New England Patriots.
Texans fans, of course, may also comfort themselves in the fact they stayed competitive in a game against the AFC Champions in their house, where it is notoriously difficult to win, and when many of their superstars were rusty coming off of injuries. They very much are still in the race.
San Francisco 49ers (L, 16-24), Dallas Cowboys (L, 8-16), and New Orleans Saints (L, 40-48)
9ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered his first loss as a starter against a popular early Super Bowl pick in the Minnesota Vikings, and didn’t put up very good stats doing so. Is there reason to panic in San Francisco, after an offseason of excitement over the young quarterback? Well, we have a very small sample size of teams that have lost by 8 in the first week of the season; only eight teams have done so since 2002. To complete the trifecta, those teams have gone on to win an average of 8 games per season - perfectly .500. Two of those eight teams made it to the playoffs. This would not be awful, considering what 49ers fans have suffered through in the seasons since their most recent NFC Championship; however, many of them, surely, had their hopes up for immediate success with their new franchise quarterback. It’s also a disappointing number for Cowboys fans, who looked to have a promising future in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, only to fall off a bit after their rookie seasons. I’ll also point Cowboys fans to the Buffalo Bills section above, where I described the fates of teams who failed to score more than 8 points in their openers (hint: it’s not as terrible as you might think.)
For the Saints fans, we’ll take a different spin on things; let’s look at teams who have scored at least 40 in their season opener. Sadly, the 2018 Saints are the first team since 2002 to score 40 in their opener and still lose. On the bright side, all other teams have won an average of almost ten games in the regular season. Of the 20 such teams, 11 have made the playoffs, and two have gone on to win the Super Bowl (including the 2009 Saints!)
Though it may seem like the Saints fans will have to sit through yet another season of Brees putting up monster numbers, while their defense makes every opposing offense look like eleven Hall-of-Famers, history shows that the future is bright for explosive week-one offenses.
Indianapolis Colts (L, 23-34)
While there’s an exciting buzz around Indy at the sight of Andrew Luck suiting up for a real football game again, Colts fans certainly didn’t reasonably expect his greatness to return immediately. Alas, they were correct, as the Colts fell to their old ways of fumbling away (quite literally) a chance at victory over their neighboring Cincinnati Bengals. We can’t learn much from the score itself, because only six teams have lost by 11 in week one since 2002. Let’s look at it two different ways: First, we will look at teams that needed two touchdowns to win: in other words, teams that lost by 11-16. That brings our sample size up to 44. Unfortunately for the Colts, those teams only went on to win 6.6 games per season, and less than 25% of them made the playoffs (with two Super Bowl champs in the last seven years, though!).
However, we all know the score doesn’t always reflect how close a game really was. This was one late turnover away from a one-score game. Let’s look instead at teams that would have needed a touchdown to win, so anybody that lost by between 4 and 8 points. The results are certainly improved; the teams won an average of 7.1 games, and 27.6% of them made the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns (T, 21-21)
Unfortunately, one of the most interesting results of week one gives us little to no information. There has been no week one ties since 2002. There have only been seven ties in that time frame, all occurring between weeks 6 and 12. Teams that tie win about eight games per year, and remember that means only seven losses since one is a tie. And actually, over half of the teams that were part of a tie made the playoffs. So who’s going to make it this year - the Steelers, or the Browns?
Los Angeles Chargers (L, 28-38)
Teams that, like the 2018 Chargers, lose by 10 points in game one typically go on to win 7.5 games. On the bright side, both the teams that did so last year made the playoffs (Titans and Saints). In fact, since 2002, a Super Bowl champion began their season losing by 10. It was the 2007 Giants, and I think it’s safe to say the Chargers fans would not complain if their season ended like that one.
Seattle Seahawks (L, 24-27) and Chicago Bears (L, 23-24)
It’s tough to lose a close game, knowing you were probably a few mistakes away from walking away with a W instead of an L. The Bears, in particular, had a very hard-to-stomach loss; after starting with a dominant lead, led by Khalil Mack and the defense, the night evolved into a very familiar sight for them; a loss to Aaron Rodgers. Let’s take a look at past teams who have begun their season 0-1 by a field-goal-or-less margin. There have been 56 such losers, who end up with about 7.3 wins and 16 playoff appearances. A scary statistic for Seattle and Chicago fans is that since 2014, only of those teams has gone on to win a playoff game. It’s certainly concerning for a team if they can’t close out games, so if they want a better chance at success, they better look to fix that.
Arizona Cardinals (L, 6-24) and Oakland Raiders (L, 13-33)
Here we have two teams that lost by at least three scores. While this certainly does not guarantee failure, the season already looks bleak for the Arizona Cardinals and Gruden’s Raiders. Teams that lose by at least 17 (but less than 25) only win about 6.5 games per year, and not even 20% of them have made the playoffs. However, since 2014, two teams have begun their season losing by three scores and gone on to win at least 11 games and experience a playoff berth. In other words? No, the immediate future is not bright for either of these teams, but success is certainly not impossible; there have been recent examples of good teams that simply had a rocky start.
Detroit Lions (L, 17-48)
It’s very possible that no team is panicking as much as the Detroit Lions. According to the media, it seems that all hell has broken loose in the early stages of the Matt Patricia era. An early loss by 31 cannot ever be a good sign, but it’s actually not a nail on a coffin. In fact, of the five teams that have lost by 31 to 35 points, only one of them finished with a regular season record worse than 7-9. The 2003 Patriots actually began their campaign losing by 31 as well, and it was one of only two losses that year. Perhaps the new Detroit head coach learned a little something from his previous job with Bill Belichick and can execute a similar season?
Philadelphia Eagles (W, 18-12)
The Super Bowl 52 champs let out a sigh of relief as their campaign to repeat started out as 1-0, but just barely. Teams that have won by 6 in week one in the past have continued to win 9.4 games in the regular season, and most of them wind up in the playoffs, although it is not guaranteed. The 2015 Denver Broncos also began their Super Bowl winning season as 6-point victors. While Eagles fans certainly shouldn’t be crowning themselves champions again just yet, the team is started out on the right path, and with the return of Carson Wentz on the horizon, they seem to be in a fairly promising position.
Baltimore Ravens (W, 47-3)
A game with this kind of score begs the question: are the Ravens that good, or are the Bills that bad? Well, it’s hard to say. Only one other team has won by over 40 in week one, and it was the 2003 49ers. They wound up with the same record as the team they defeated, 7-9. Of course, it is ridiculous to jump to any conclusions with a one-game sample size (which is the entire point of this article). Last year, the most dominant week one win was done at the hands of the LA Rams, who went most of the season as a favorite in a tough NFC but lost their first playoff game. Basically, Ravens fans need to pump the breaks - they aren’t out of the clear yet.
Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 20-15)
The Jaguars know how close they were to a Super Bowl appearance last year. They didn’t lose too many key pieces, so they think they can be there this year. Honestly, they can - two teams in recent years have won their first game by 5 and also won the Super Bowl the following February, the 2006 Colts and the 2013 Seahawks. However, don’t write them in just yet - the last two teams to win by 5 in week one ended up winning only four games the entire season. Their defense - last year’s best in the league - did have quite the test going up against two of the league’s most prolific offensive stars, Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, so it doesn’t appear to be a cupcake win, either - but New York’s future is uncertain, too, so we can’t say for sure.
New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins (W, 27-20)
Both of these AFC East foes won in an identical fashion (score-wise, at least; certainly not time-wise). As I’ve been emphasizing, I would hesitate to jump to conclusions about either team just yet, but like I alluded to in the section about the Titans, I especially hesitate to jump to conclusions about the Dolphins. The circumstances around that game are incredibly unique. Keeping in mind, then, that we must take the following results with a grain of salt, let’s check out the results for teams that started their season with a 7 point victory. On average, they win 9.32 regular season teams, and just over half of them make the playoffs. Six of them have won at least one playoff game, and one of them was a Super Bowl Champion (2010 Green Bay Packers).
Let’s also look at teams that scored exactly 27 points in their openers - there are 30, and they have won on average 8.6 games and make the playoffs almost 50% of the time. Last year the New England Patriots won with the same score, and certainly had what most would consider a good season, although their fans might not agree with the way it ended. However, two more successful Super Bowl campaigns have begun with this score. Of course, we know not both these teams can win the division, but right now, they both think they can, so it will certainly be interesting to follow in the coming weeks.
Minnesota Vikings (W, 24-16), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W, 48-40), and Carolina Panthers (W, 16-8)
I think it’s interesting that only eight teams have won by 8 in week one since 2002, but we had three such games in week one of 2018. In the past, this small sample of teams has won an average of 9.4 games per season, which is helped a lot by the 15-1 Green Bay Packers of 2011. Half of them have made the playoffs, although each of those playoff teams have failed to win the Super Bowl. The worst record of the bunch is 7-9, which would be an improvement for the Buccaneers, a disappointment for the Panthers, who seem to always be in the mix in a competitive NFC South, and heart-stopping for Vikings fans who believe (with good reason) that they could hoist their first Lombardi in February.
Let’s pay particular attention to the Buccaneers, probably the most surprising win of the group. It’s hard to out-score Drew Brees, even with the porous Saints defense helping you out. Historically, teams that have scored at least 45 points in their season opener have won on average over 10 games, have made it to the playoffs 4/7 times, and have made it to the Super Bowl 2/7 times, although one of them was the 2013 Denver Broncos, who may have preferred not to be in the Super Bowl in hindsight. One standout - in a negative way - would be the 2012 Jets, who dropped 48 in game one and then went 6-10, which is certainly not a future Buccaneers fans would hope for.
A note on the Panthers: most teams who have scored 16 have lost their openers. For those who have won (which hasn’t happened since 2013), their average regular season win count is 8.2, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 2007. While Panthers fans should undoubtedly celebrate a well-deserved win, there is definitely a concern that 16 points are not going to be enough for sustained success.
Cincinnati Bengals (W, 34-23)
The Bengals won, and their fans were probably even more thrilled to see the Steelers and the Browns tied. They were undeterred by the former number one pick returning to action, and they got the job done. However, as I addressed in the Colts section, this game was closer than the score might indicate. Let’s look at score only, and check out the teams that won by a margin greater than a touchdown and a field goal, but less than three scores (so anywhere from 11 to 16). These teams won an average of 9.7 games per season, and the group includes the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, who won their first matchup last year by 13, and we all know how that wound up for them. You’d have to go back to 2014 to find such a team with a record worse than 8-8 - although that team, the Titans, was significantly worse than 8-8.
But like I said, this was a game right up until the last minute. This might resemble more like a 4 to 8 point win instead. Those such victors won an average of 9 games per year, and reached the playoffs 48.7% of the time - basically a coin flip. The most recent Super Bowl Champion to win by a slim margin like this was the 2015 Denver Broncos, who opened their season with a 6-point victory.
Kansas City Chiefs (W, 38-28)
It would be hard, as a Chiefs fan, not to get excited with this result. Sure, you beat the Chargers, who aren’t exactly a powerhouse themselves. But your young quarterback played like a star, and your dynamic offense showed its explosive potential, with some of the biggest weapons not even having big games. However, it’s also important not to extrapolate on a one-game showing, because we have seen plenty of examples of cases where this doesn’t work out the way you want it too. There have been 12 teams since 2002 to win their first game by 10. The mean number of wins is 8.5, and 7 of the 12 teams were playoff teams, including last year’s Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, none of those teams ended up being Super Bowl victors, and a couple teams started their season the same way and won fewer than six games - however, that has not happened since 2004. The records since then have been at least 6-10.
Denver Broncos (W, 27-24) and Green Bay Packers (W, 24-23)
Unfortunately, I don’t have the data for week one games for teams that won by dramatic comeback. Regardless of how the rest of the season fares for the Packers, they gave us one very memorable week one game. I’ll admit I did not get to see the Broncos victory, but with a score that close, I’m guessing that was an exciting one, as well. 56 teams in the past 16 years have won by a field goal or less. Those teams averaged nine wins, and exactly 50% of them made the playoffs. It’s a good indication that you can finish games, but not exactly anything with which you can jump to conclusions. Last year, two teams won week one by 3 points: the Steelers and the Broncos, both of whom ended up with very, very different records. Broncos and Packers fans, celebrate your exciting victories, but based on history, your season looks like a crap-shoot for now.
Washington Redskins (W, 24-6) and Los Angeles Rams (W, 33-13)
Coming into the 2018 season, the Los Angeles Rams are a big-time Super Bowl favorite. They made some monster trades in the offseason after a strong performance last year. The Redskins were a bit of a question mark; after a few mediocre to decent seasons, they chose to pursue Alex Smith instead of Kirk Cousins, but their first victory looked very promising for the upcoming season. For teams that one by 17 or more but less than 25, the average number of regular season wins was 9.5, and just under half made the playoffs. The ‘08 and ‘09 Super Bowl Champions both started their seasons with dominant wins like these, but in recent years, they have failed to make it to the big game or have lost in it.
New York Jets (W, 48-17)
The Jets have been the butt of many, many jokes in recent years, but after an impressive preseason from rookie QB Sam Darnold, and an equally as impressive win in his first regular season start, the tides may be turning. They put up a lot of points, but with the apparent state of the Lions, is it really that impressive? In the past, teams that have won by 31-35 in the opener only win an average of 8.8 games in the season, although there are only five teams to base that off of. The most recent team to do this was the 2012 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, which bodes well for the Jets; however, before them was the 6-10 Buffalo Bills of the previous year, so New York’s excitement might just be premature.
Overall, losing week one teams won 6.9 of their regular season games. Winning teams won 9.1 regular season games - but remember, both of these numbers include the week one game. In other words, losing week one teams won about 7 of their remaining 15 games, whereas winning teams won about 8 of their remaining 15 games. In every scenario we looked at, there were examples of teams with losing records and teams with winning records; in some cases, a team would continue on to be 12-4, and others who started the same way would end up being 4-12. What can we conclude, then? We conclude that we cannot conclude anything, after just one week of games - except that your team is not necessarily as good as you think it is, nor is it as bad as you think it is.