But are opening games accurate predictors of season-long success? The NFL likes to think so. In its voluminous Kickoff 2012 Information Guide, it included a note that since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 – and excluding the strike-shortened nine-game season in 1982 – 258 of the 490 teams (52.7 percent) that won their opening games went to the playoffs, including 152 as division winners. But only 111 of the 490 teams that lost their openers (22.7 percent) reached the postseason, including 66 division titlists. In 2011, seven of the 12 playoff teams were victorious on Kickoff Weekend, though the Giants weren’t among them.
In a release sent out today, the NFL noted that the 46 Super Bowl winners have a 37-8-1 record in the Kickoff Weekend games of their title seasons. Super Bowl losers are 40-5-1.
But exceptions exist for almost every statistical story and the Giants are a good example. Although only eight teams in 46 years lost a season opener and went on to win a Super Bowl, the Giants have done it three times. In 1986, 2007 and 2011, they began their season with losses to division opponents and ended it taking home the Lombardi Trophy. So their 24-17 loss to Dallas last week could just be a temporary setback, though the three Kickoff losses in championship seasons were on the road.
In 1986, the Giants dropped their opener on a Monday night in Dallas and finished 14-2 before storming through the postseason. Five years ago, they started the season with losses to the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers but won Super Bowl XLII. Last season, they fell in the opener in Washington, but five months later defeated New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
From 1978 through 2011 - and excluding, as the league did, 1982 – the Giants played 33 season openers. They won 19 of them, which led to 12 winning records, three .500 seasons and four losing records. In those 19 years, the Giants reached the playoffs nine times (47.3 percent), including six times as NFC East champions.
In the 14 years in which they lost their opener, they finished with five winning records, once at .500 and had eight losing seasons. They made the playoffs six times (42.9 percent), twice after finishing in first place.
So while teams winning their opening games do have a small statistical advantage in the playoff race, losing on the season’s first week hardly dooms a team’s chance. And the Giants – with three titles after opening losses – are perfect examples that season-opening losses are anything but season-enders.
*Manning’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass to former Cowboy
*Six quarterbacks made their NFL starting debuts on Kickoff Weekend, increasing the total to 140 different quarterbacks that have started a game since Manning’s first start on Nov. 21, 1004.
*The Giants had 187 net passing yards vs. Dallas, the first sub 200-yard game since Dec. 12, 2010, when they threw for 182 yards in a victory over Minnesota in Detroit.
*In their last 27 games, including the playoffs, the Giants have allowed a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game just twice – in their last two regular season games, both at home vs. Dallas. And four different players had the big yardage totals.
In the 2011 season finale, a 31-14 Giants victory that clinched the NFC East title, Felix Jones ran for 106 yards and Laurent Robinson gained 137 yards on four catches. Last week, DeMarco Murray ran for 131 yards and Kevin Ogletree added 114 yards on eight receptions.
*Murray’s 131 yards was the highest total by a Giants opponent since the Cardinals’ Beanie Wells rushed for 138 yards last Oct. 2 in Arizona.
*Under Tom Coughlin, the Giants are 15-20 in regular season games in which an opposing back runs for at least 100 yards.