Winning a must in week one?

While it certainly isn't impossible to make the playoffs after losing a game to open the season, it isn't the preferred method for establishing a winning attitude. The San Diego Chargers know this all too well after losing a heartbreaker to open 2005.

"Last year we started in a hole at 0-2," quarterback Philip Rivers reflected on the 2005 season. "Get off to a good start and get things going and take it from there. That is the focus."

And San Diego missed out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

"A win in Week one is important," added New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. "There are 16 games on every NFL team's schedule and they all count the same in the standings. But a win in Week 1 gives you a lot more confidence and takes off some of the pressure."

"In the NFL," says Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach and new Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy, "every game is important. Teams need to respond every week, whether they win or lose the previous week."

Since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, and excluding the abbreviated season of 1982, teams that are victorious on Kickoff Weekend are more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs than losers of an opening game:

Of the 394 teams which won openers...207 went to the playoffs (115 won division titles).

Of the 394 teams which lost openers...93 went to the playoffs (54 won division titles).

In 2005, eight of the 12 playoff teams – Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New England, New York Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington – were victorious on Kickoff Weekend.

"It's fun when the season starts," says new Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards. "Of course you want to win the first game. One game, then it's the next one, then it's the next one. It's a long season – can't lose sight of it."

But, a lot of people jump to conclusions at the beginning of NFL seasons. Have a team start off at 0-2 or 1-1, and they are buried. But the numbers prove that such an inauspicious beginning really doesn't mean the entire season is over.

When looking at the teams that have made the playoffs in the past two seasons, it can be seen that starting out 1-1 is really not a bad thing at all. Far from it in fact: of the 24 teams in the 2005 and 2004 playoffs, 13 of them began the season 1-1.

Climbing out of an 0-2 hole is a bigger challenge. It's certainly possible (remember the 0-4 San Diego Chargers in 1992 that made the playoffs?), and was done as recently as the 2003 season when the Philadelphia Eagles advanced to the Conference Championship.

Combined, a respectable 65 percent of the past two seasons' playoff teams started with a record of .500 or worse. So, a slow start doesn't have to mean a lost season.

When it comes to predicting playoff teams in the National Football League, therefore, the proposition can be downright impossible.

"There's nothing predictable in the unpredictable NFL," says former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current FOX announcer Troy Aikman, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2006.

Last season, seven teams – Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, New York Giants, Tampa Bay and Washington – made the playoffs that were not in the playoffs the year before. That marked the 10th consecutive season in which at least five teams (out of 12) accomplished the feat.

Season Playoff teams not in previous season's playoffs
1996 5 (Carolina, Denver, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England)
1997 5 (Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New York Giants, Tampa Bay)
1998 5 (Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, New York Jets)
1999 7 (Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington)
2000 6 (Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, New York Giants, Oakland, Philadelphia)
2001 6 (Chicago, Green Bay, New England, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco)
2002 5 (Atlanta, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New York Giants, Tennessee)
2003 8 (Baltimore, Carolina, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, New England, St. Louis, Seattle)
2004 5 (Atlanta, Minnesota, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Diego)
2005 7 (Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Washington)

The NFL is so unpredictable that:

• Two teams – Chicago and Tampa Bay – went from "worst to first" in their divisions, finishing last in 2004 and first in 2005.

• Seventeen percent of games were decided in the final two minutes or overtime.

• Almost half the games (48 percent) were decided by one score (eight points or less), and almost a quarter (24 percent) were decided by three points or less.

Team SOS Games vs. +500 Games vs. playoff
San Diego .488, 125-131 7 5


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