The Historical Guide to NFL's Opening Weekend

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 12, 2015

The Historical Guide to NFL's Opening Weekend

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Well, Week 1 is almost in full swing.

    With the New England Patriots posting a 28-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, Bill Belichick's team already managed to do something it failed to do during its Super Bowl XLIX title season of 2014: Win in Week 1.

    So what does opening the year with a victory really mean when it comes to the big picture? And what other interesting things do we know when it comes to opening weekend in the NFL?

    That's why we're here. Enjoy the first Sunday and Monday of the latest edition of our national obsession.

It's How You Start...

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Looking for an early indicator to figure out which NFL team will wind up winning it all?

    Well, opening the season with a victory certainly doesn't hurt. The club that has gone on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy has won its first game more than 80 percent of the time. And teams that have won the Super Bowl have combined for a 39-9-1 mark in their first game of the season.

    You'll notice a tie in that record, which came back in 1967 (before regular-season overtime) courtesy of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, who opened the year with a 17-17 tie against the Detroit Lions, finished 9-4-1 and defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II in what proved to be Lombardi's final game with the Pack.

...But It's Not Always How You Start

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    Yes, while some moan and groan after their favorite team stubs its toes on opening weekend, losing in Week 1 hardly means you have no shot at winning the Super Bowl.

    As we documented, there have been only nine instances in which a team dropped its season opener and then went on to Super Bowl success. But it's also worth noting it has happened a lot more often as of late.

    The first team to lose in Week 1 and then capture the title in the Super Bowl era was the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, who fell to the Detroit Lions 24-17 at the Silverdome and then returned to that building four months later and defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21 to win Super Bowl XVI. The 1986 New York Giants and the 1993 Dallas Cowboys (who opened 0-2) managed the same Super feat.

    But six times in the last 14 seasons a team has lost its first game of the season and proceeded to win it all. The New England Patriots actually did it in three of their four championship campaigns (2001, 2003 and 2014), and the Giants have done it twice (2007 and 2011). The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lost in Week 1 and still captured Super Bowl XXXVII.

    Along with the '93 Cowboys, the '01 Patriots and '07 Giants are the lone teams to lose their first two games and then finish the season with a Super Bowl trophy.

Quite the First Impression...Or Not

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    While teams are not exactly on equal footing when it comes to overall numbers (due to the fact that the 32 current squads didn't all begin play the same year), there are currently just four NFL franchises that have won at least 60 percent of their first games each year.

    The leaders are the Dallas Cowboys (.667), who own a 36-18-1 record in season openers. That's followed by the Denver Broncos (.648), Houston Texans (.615) and Chicago Bears (.600).

    As for the worst teams in their first games, the Carolina Panthers are a combined 7-13 in season openers, a .350 winning percentage. That's followed by the New Orleans Saints (.354) and both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks, who have identical 15-24 marks in their first games of the season since entering the league in 1976.

We're Going Streaking!

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans have only been around since 2002. But when they host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, they will be looking to open 1-0 for the sixth straight year. That's the longest current streak in the NFL in terms of Week 1 success.

    It's also worth noting the Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers are all riding four-game winning streaks on opening weekend.

    You have to like the Jets' odds Sunday when they host the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that hasn't had much success since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. Cleveland hasn't won its first game of the season since 2004, meaning the club has dropped 10 consecutive contests in Week 1. That's the longest current stretch of futility in the league.

The Unreachable Star?

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    We have already mentioned that the Houston Texans hold the longest current winning streak on opening weekend, courtesy of five straight victories. But it's the other team from the Lone Star State that owns an even better mark—one that may never be topped.

    Led by Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry, the Dallas Cowboys won 17 consecutive season openers from 1965 to 1981—the longest such streak in NFL history. The impressive stretch started with a 31-2 victory over the New York Giants a mere 50 years ago and carried through a 26-10 win over the rival Washington Redskins. The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the run with a 36-28 victory.

    Of course, that's a big reason the Cowboys are 36-18-1 in season openers—the best mark in the league.

The Start of Something Special

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    There have been just seven occasions in NFL history in which a player ran for 200 or more yards during the opening week of the season.

    There has only been one instance, however, in which a performer rushed for at least 250 yards, and it happened in 1973.

    Pro Football Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson was the first overall pick in the 1969 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. In Week 1 of his fifth season, he ran around, over and through the New England Patriots for exactly 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 29 carries in a 31-13 win at old Schaefer Stadium. Simpson that season became the first player in league annals to run for at least 2,000 yards.

Some Fancy Passing

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    It not only remains the best passing performance in terms of yards in the first game of a season, it remains the NFL record for the most passing yards in a game.

    On Sept. 28, 1951, eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Norm Van Brocklin threw for an amazing 554 yards in a 54-14 victory over the now-defunct New York Yanks. "The Dutchman" hit on 27 of his 41 attempts, connected for five scores and was intercepted twice.

    That season culminated in an NFL championship for the Rams, their only league title while they resided in Los Angeles. The franchise captured titles in 1945 while in Cleveland and in 1999 in its current home in St. Louis.

    And you thought the New York Yankees had a rough time Friday night in an 11-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays?

Seven Up

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Some Denver Broncos must have still been smarting when they hosted the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 5, 2013.

    After all, the last time Denver had taken the field, the top-seeded Broncos lost to visiting Baltimore 30-27 in double overtime in the AFC Divisional Round. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

    But Peyton Manning and Co. got some revenge in the next season's opener. Per tradition, the defending champion Ravens should have hosted the first game of the season, but a conflict over a shared parking lot with MLB's Baltimore Orioles shifted the game to the Mile High City.

    Manning completed 27 of his 42 throws for 462 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 49-27 victory over John Harbaugh's team. The Ravens actually owned a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter, but it was all Manning after that. His seven scores, which tied six others for the NFL single-game record, went to Andre Caldwell, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker.

    Manning was well on his way to setting NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55) in a season. But he and the Broncos were also en route to being humbled by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.