This week we will be looking at the new schedule wrinkle (which starts tonight), what an 0-2 start means for your team’s playoff chances, the progress of the five rookie quarterbacks and statement games in prime time for Detroit and Atlanta.
Thursday Night Football: It’s Serious Fun…for the Home Team
If the world’s most annoying man, dressed in a blue suit with a beard, has not already told you, there will be Thursday Night Football starting in Week 2. Every team will play on Thursday this season, but only half can have the home-field advantage, which historically has been huge.
I wrote about this topic on Cold, Hard Football Facts in the offseason. Generally, the home team wins about 57 percent of all NFL regular season games. Since 1990, the home team is 50-22 (.694) in prime-time Thursday games.
Excluding season openers with the defending champions, the home team is 25-12 (.676) since 2006 on Thursday night games. All of these mid-week contests have been aired on NFL Network, just like the Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers game will be.
Why such a huge advantage? Not having to travel in such a short week is a big edge. Thursday night has not always been an advantage, however, as the home team was just 9-13 (.409) before 1990.
The advances in medicine and technology make it easier to recuperate and prepare quickly for your next opponent. While good teams can still overcome such disadvantages, there is no denying the home-field advantage that comes with the Thursday night game.
When picking games this season, keep this information in mind for the Thursday games. It will be interesting to see if the percentage regresses back to the normal home-field advantage (upper-50s) now that every team in the league is going to enter into the sample.
The schedule makers did an odd job giving Green Bay two of its toughest games right at the start of the season, but at least they are both at home. However, the Green Bay Packers are one loss away from blowing both opportunities and putting themselves in a big hole to start the season.
Just how big of a hole would 0-2 be for the Packers?
Starting 0-2 and Making the Playoffs
Half of the league is 1-0, and the other half is 0-1. While 16 teams brace for preventing a 0-2 start, we are guaranteed (ties aside) to have a few teams hit that mark.
Winless matchups in Week 2 include New Orleans at Carolina, Cleveland at Cincinnati, Kansas City at Buffalo, and Oakland at Miami.
Some teams are almost expected to start 0-2. No one would be surprised if the Miami Dolphins did that. We watched Hard Knocks. You knew this was a bad team.
But what about 2011 playoff teams like the New York Giants, Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati starting 0-2? Can they beat the odds and make the playoffs?
Since the 12-team playoff format was introduced in 1990, only 22 teams have started 0-2 and made the playoffs. That is 22 out of 184 teams (12 percent). According to the Sports Reference blog, teams that start 0-2 have only gone on to win 36.4 percent of their games in the season since 1988.
But since a lot of 0-2 teams are expected to be bad teams, we need to refine that number for teams that had expectations, such as our five playoff teams from last year that can potentially start 0-2 this year.
Doesn’t Green Bay have a better chance of rebounding from 0-2 than a team like Miami? I like to think so.
Of the 22 teams to make the playoffs after a 0-2 start, nine teams were playoff teams from the previous year. It is a decent number, but not as high as expected.
In breaking down the 184 teams, only 51 of them had made the playoffs the previous season. Nine of the 51 made the playoffs again, or 17.6 percent. That is not much better than 12 percent.
However, that means only 13 of the 133 teams (9.8 percent) that were not playoff teams the previous year made the playoffs after starting 0-2. So your chances almost double, but it is hard for anyone to repeat as a playoff team in the NFL.
Sometimes you get a team that was lucky to make it in the first place, such as the 2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9). Does anyone even remember the 2005 season when Washington and Tampa Bay had double-digit wins and met in the playoffs?
More commonly, you have a team derailed by a key injury, such as the 2011 Indianapolis Colts (Peyton Manning). Chad Pennington was injured every other year, which really hurt his teams in 2003, 2007 and 2009.
If not injury, then the departure of a quarterback really changes things, such as the 1999 Denver Broncos (John Elway retired and Terrell Davis was injured) and the1994 Houston Oilers (Warren Moon went to Minnesota).
Here are the 22 teams to survive the 0-2 start and make the playoffs:
If there was a lock for a 2011 playoff team to get back to 1-1 this week, go with the New York Giants at home against Tampa Bay. Since losing last Wednesday, the Giants have become the most forgotten defending champion in over a decade.
Tom Coughlin should get them back on track this week.
Most Rookie Quarterbacks Will Be Better This Week
It was a rough week for most of the five rookie quarterbacks making their first start. They all lost except for Robert Griffin III.
Fortunately, Week 2 should offer some improvement in the way of the schedule. Plus, the bar was set so low last Sunday that it would be hard to get underneath it again.
Andrew Luck gets to improve on his first game against a Minnesota Vikings defense that made Blaine Gabbert look very competent last week. After allowing a 107.6 defensive passer rating in 2011, 15 of the last 17 quarterbacks to play the Vikings have had a passer rating of at least 85.
The only players who did not were Josh McCown (75.4) and Kevin Kolb (46.9). Look for Luck to be more effective this week at home.
Ryan Tannehill, fresh off that three-interception performance against Houston’s stingy defense, will get a home start against Oakland. The game is at 1 p.m. EST, and since 2007, Oakland is 10-16 (.385) in games that start at that time. Keep in mind they played a late Monday night game, and looked awful in the process.
Last season the Raiders fell behind 34-0 in Miami before scoring two touchdowns in garbage time, which have become a Carson Palmer specialty. Do not expect big scoring from Miami again, but Tannehill should have an easier task against the Oakland defense. He will find the end zone this time.
Brandon Weeden will try to keep his passer rating (5.1) above his minor league ERA (5.02) this week in Cincinnati. The Bengals had a terrible performance in Baltimore on Monday night, but should bounce back this week. As for Weeden, can it really get any worse than the Philadelphia game?
Russell Wilson gets his first home start against Dallas. Seattle is often a tough place to play, though Dallas had a strong opening win. Wilson came up a play short of a win in Arizona last week. He did not play a terrible game, but it was far from his preseason display.
The Cowboys are the better team, but expect Wilson to hit some more big plays than he did last week when his longest completion was 27 yards and his longest run was five yards.
Then you have Robert Griffin III at the St. Louis Rams. After his amazing debut, the only logical step is down. Jeff Fisher’s revamped defense looked good for most of the game in Detroit last week, but could not stop Matthew Stafford on the final two drives.
Hard to call this one an upset, but put the Redskins on upset alert. Hidden in the praise for Griffin’s debut was the massive amount of yards after the catch produced by the receivers. The Rams will be aware of this, and such numbers do not tend to repeat in consecutive weeks.
Of Griffin’s 320 passing yards, 206 came after the catch (64.4 percent). Compare that to Andrew Luck, who had just 104 of his 309 yards after the catch (33.7 percent). The NFL average is usually in the low 40s in terms of percentage.
Although Stafford led the league in the first week with 355 yards against the St. Louis defense, with 156 yards coming after the catch (43.9 percent), he did throw three interceptions and was dangerously close to a fourth.
Washington has the rare schedule with two road games (41st team since 2000; Dallas also starts on the road twice this year). Only six of the 39 previous teams started 2-0 on the road. That includes some heavy-hitters like the 2001 Rams, 2006 Saints and 2009 Vikings.
While you think the Saints would have been a much bigger challenge, the Rams offer something different: a defensive mindset, a running game and a real head coach.
St. Louis is 23-74 since 2006, but 3-2 against Washington (all close games). This will be the fifth consecutive season they meet.
For now, Griffin is well in the lead for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Forget Handshakes, When Will We See the Big Detroit Win?
Since the Detroit Lions started their rebuild in 2009 with head coach Jim Schwartz and quarterback Matthew Stafford as the cornerstones, they have finally started to build what might be a winning culture. “Restore the roar,” if you will.
The only problem is they lack the signature wins, or maybe even the singular win. As we looked at last week, the Lions were just 1-5 against playoff teams (1-6 including the Wild Card loss in New Orleans) in 2011. That is one of the worst records ever for a playoff team.
With big expectations this year, the first half got off to a rocky start at home against St. Louis in Week 1. Stafford threw three first-half interceptions, but rallied late for the seventh game-winning drive of his career.
Stafford is an impressive 7-6 in fourth quarter/overtime game-winning opportunities in his career, which ranks him fourth in the league among active players in terms of percentage.
But when will the big wins come against the tough opponents for the No. 1 overall pick? That is what you expect out of such a player, and it is what the Lions need to take the next step.
Last season we watched them stumble in national games, losing their cool in New Orleans on Sunday Night Football, and falling behind 24-0 to Green Bay on Thanksgiving.
On Sunday, they get another shot on the big stage as they will have a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers in prime time. Let the handshake fiasco run wild with Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, but the real game is on the field. It is already hard to see Detroit stepping up after how the two teams looked last week.
The 49ers calmly took care of Green Bay on the road, while the Lions had to scrap for that win over the Rams. Last season the 49ers came back late to beat Detroit. In fact, Jim Harbaugh has had at least a fourth-quarter tie in all 19 of his games as head coach of the 49ers (including playoffs).
For Detroit, this is a huge game to start 2-0 and beat what looks like the class of the NFC in front of a national audience. But if we base it on history, then chances are this will just be another loss.
Stafford is still a young quarterback, and he has been prolific through his 30 career starts (14-16 record). He already has 8,195 yards and 61 touchdown passes. But his numbers break down in a familiar pattern: good against the bad teams, bad against the good teams. Take a look.
Stafford has never beaten a team with a winning record (0-12). He has thrown 16 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and has a 72.1 passer rating in those contests. Detroit has scored fewer than 20 points in nine of these games.
Five wins against teams with 8-8 records last year strengthens his case a little, as they may have been 9-7 teams had Detroit not won those games. Still, the mark is 0-12 against teams that did have a winning record. That does not include the playoff loss in New Orleans.
The 14 wins in Stafford’s career have come against teams with a combined 78-131 (.373) record. His 16 losses are against teams with a 167-89 (.652) record and that includes the 2009 Rams (1-15) in his rookie year.
Very cut-and-dry. Now he is on the road this week against what is likely a winning team this season. What do you think will happen?
For Detroit to accomplish its goals, this is a trend that needs to end. The Lions' first opportunity this season comes in San Francisco. Let’s see if they get a fair shake this time against the better competition.
If Matt Ryan Wants to be the Next Peyton Manning
After drawing many comparisons to the career path of a young Peyton Manning, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan will get his first opportunity to play on the same field as the quarterback he models much of his game after.
The ESPN crew actually has a good one this time on Monday night, as the Denver Broncos head into Atlanta in the only dome game Manning will play in the 2012 regular season.
Wanting to make a statement themselves, the Falcons could really use a big win like this in prime time. Ryan and Atlanta usually play very well at home, and have the third best home record (26-7) in the league since coach Mike Smith and Ryan arrived in 2008.
But similar to Detroit, that record is inflated by beating much of the lesser competition in the league. At home, Ryan is 1-2 against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers with two straight high-profile losses, including that 48-21 domination in the 2010 playoffs.
The Falcons are only 1-3 at home against New Orleans, though Ryan missed one of the losses due to injury in 2009 (Chris Redman started in his place). The only two other losses in Atlanta have been against Denver in 2008 and Philadelphia in 2009 (Redman started that game too).
In summary, Matt Ryan’s five home losses have been to two of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the Denver Broncos. On Monday night, he will be playing one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the Denver Broncos.
It is just a Week 2 regular season game—one between non-conference foes at that—but this could be a “hump” game for Ryan and the Falcons. A chance to show that they are ready to take that next level offensively and beat one of the big boys. No, the Kansas City Chiefs last week do not count.
With expectations of a high-scoring affair and lots of no-huddle offense, this is one of the biggest stages Ryan will have all season. Preparing for and winning a game like this can help the team in the future when they are in the playoffs and playing a similar matchup.
In the past, Ryan is 0-3 on Monday Night Football, with just a 73.6 passer rating. Throw in the 0-3 playoff record, and the big audience has not been very reflective of Ryan’s usually solid performances. By comparison, Manning is 11-3 with a 99.1 passer rating on Monday games.
The loss of Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes comes at a bad time, but do not forget they have Asante Samuel, whose veins run with some of that Manning kryptonite Ty Law infamously had.
The narrative for this game will be easy. There are only two outcomes.
One involves Ryan masterfully running the no-huddle all night, wearing out that Denver defense with ease and utilizing both Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez in the red zone for touchdowns as they light up the scoreboard in a win. Cue the “Is Matt Ryan in that conversation as an elite quarterback?” talk.
Meanwhile, Manning will not be as efficient as he was last week against Pittsburgh, prompting headlines of “Broncos far from finished project” or “Hold off on those Super Bowl reservations, Denver fans.” The usual rhetoric.
If not that, then it will be another case of Ryan and the Falcons being upstaged by one of the league’s top quarterbacks, and keeping them in limbo from becoming an elite team and Ryan an elite quarterback.
This is the kind of game you just have to win at home in a big spot. Peyton Manning learned that around this point in his career.
Matt Ryan has to do the same if he wants to be that kind of player.
Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.