NFL Playoff Chances By Record, by FiveThirtyEight
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Football
Since 1995, teams who win their opening game have averaged around 9.1 wins, while teams losing their opener average 6.9. So the information a win conveys makes it worth more than double its face value.
The first two weeks of the season alone mark the difference between having a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs (for a 2-0 squad) and a 10 percent chance (for 0-2).
In the NFL, every single game is important. Each one represents more than 6 percent of a team’s season, and one win is often the difference between making the playoffs and not, between getting a bye and playing on wild-card weekend, or between playing at home and playing on the road. But even within the every-game-matters paradigm, the first weeks of the NFL season are special.
For us fans, early-season games set the agenda. They reveal surprises, like the 1999 Rams, who — starting an Arena league quarterback and coming off a four-win season — won their first three games with a combined score of 100-27 (including a 35-7 romp over the Atlanta Falcons). It would be weeks before people really started taking the team seriously, but if the Rams had started 0-3, they could have been safely written off. Early-season games also reveal busts, like the 1999 Atlanta Falcons, who — coming off a 14-2 season — lost their first three games by a combined score of 76-28.
In other words, these games are doubly important because they reveal both who won and who is likely to win going forward. This new information can supplement — and often supercede — a whole offseason of analysis. Yes, we have considered opinions about who’s strong and who isn’t, who did well in free agency or poorly in the draft, but outside of a small number of sure things, predicting which teams will rise or fall from year to year can be nigh impossible. Of course, we do our best.