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NFL notebook

   by Larry Ness - 09/17/2004

Week 1 of the NFL featured 10 games in which a playoff team from 2004 met a non-playoff team and should anyone really be surprised that in SEVEN instances, the non-playoff team from the year before, WON? Not really, when you consider this fact.

Over a five-year period (2000-04), 25 of the 60 playoff participants (41.7 percent) have been teams that were .500 or worse the year before. Along with San Diego last year, Atlanta (from 5-11 to 11-5), the New York Jets (6-10 to 10-6) and Pittsburgh (6-10 to 15-1!) all made the playoffs coming off a non-winning season.

It's not easy these days to even make the playoffs year in and year out. New England has won three Super Bowls in four years but in 2002, the Pats failed to even reach the postseason. Only three franchises have made it to the postseason in each of the last three years. Philadelphia tops the list with five straight playoff appearances, followed by Green Bay (four straight) and Indianapolis (three straight).

How much does winning or losing that first game mean to a team's postseason chances? Since the league adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978, there have 378 Week 1 winners and 199 or 52.6 percent have gone on to qualify for the playoffs. Of the 378 losers, just 89 or 23.5 percent have rebounded to gain a postseason berth. So while winning that first game hardly seems to guarantee much, basically a 50-50 chance of making the playoffs, a loss in Week 1 makes you about a 3-to-1 underdog to still be playing after Week 17.

The Indianapolis Colts were the ONLY 2004 playoff team that lost their first game last year. However, recent history has been much kinder to Week 1 losers. From 2001 through 2003, 17 of the 36 teams that made the playoffs those three years, LOST their Week 1 games.

That fact should give hope to the EIGHT 2004 playoff teams that lost in Week 1, because except for Philadelphia and San Diego, NOTHING about the other six teams' performances last week, DOES!

Denver, the league's lone unbeaten during the preseason lost at Miami (4-12 LY), 34-10. Green Bay lost at Detroit 17-3, marking the lowest point-total for the team since Favre became its starting QB. Minnesota lost at home to Tampa Bay 24-13, as Daunte Culpepper committed five turnovers and the team's only TD came on an 88-yard interception return.

The New York Jets lost at Kansas City 27-7, scoring their only points with under 30 seconds remaining, against a team that allowed 435 points. Oh yeah, Chad Pennington also fumbled SIX times! Seattle failed to score in the game's second half and lost at Jacksonville 26-14 and St Louis lost at San Francisco, 28-25. The 49ers (2-14 LY) beat the Rams despite getting out-gained 405-217 in total yards and rushing 21 times for just 34 yards.

While looking ahead and handicapping this week's NFL schedule, you may want to keep these Week 1 numbers in mind? Of the 16 SU winners from last weekend, 15 'covered the spread'. The only team to win SU but not ATS, was the Washington Redskins, who beat the Bears 9-7 as 5 1/2-point favorites. Home teams went 11-5 SU and 10-6 ATS, home dogs came in at 3-2 both SU and ATS. Scoring was fairly low in Week 1, with a game average of 38.4 PPG and 10 of the 16 games going 'under'.

A stat I'll be following all year is how teams do when they out-rush their opponents in a game and/or have more rushing attempts than their opponents. The numbers for Week 1 are 13-3 SU (12-4 ATS) for teams that out-rushed their opponents and 15-1 SU (14-2 ATS) for teams that had more rushing attempts in their games.

Teams that featured 100-yard rushers went 7-0 SU (6-1 ATS) in Week 1, while there were only two 300-yard passing performances. New England's Tom Brady had 306 yards in the Pats' 30-20 win and 'cover' over Oakland and St Louis' Marc Bulger had 362 yards in the Rams' loss at San Francisco.

CLOSING NOTE:

While Peyton Manning's record-setting 49 passing TDs in 2004 was that season's top story, the above stats prove that to win in the NFL, a team must run the football effectively. On that note, NINE teams passed the ball 40 or more times in Week 1 and combined to go 0-9 SU and ATS!

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