Let’s start with the good news. Andrew Luck is back.
In last year’s opener, Luck was pummeled by the Buffalo Bills, averaged less than 5 yards per attempt, and threw two interceptions. It was a sign of things to come in 2015. Luck would miss games with a shoulder injury, then try to come back and suffer a rib cartilage injury that ended his year with 7 games played.
Luck signed his big contract extension in the offseason, and showed that he is ready to put 2015’s nightmare behind him with the opener. Luck threw for almost 400 yards and 4 touchdowns with no turnovers, numbers more reminiscent of what he did before last season, when he led the league in TDs in 2014. He also made play after play after a slow start, when Indianapolis fell behind 21-3 in the first half. Luck took the Colts on a cool two-minute drive to score a touchdown with 5 seconds remaining to give the team hope. He then rolled in the second half, and appeared to lead yet another game-winning drive in the 4th quarter, only to see Detroit and Matt Stafford get the Lions back into field goal range for the game winner.
Do you know how many quarterbacks had thrown for at least 4 touchdowns with zero interceptions in the season opener, and lost?
Before yesterday, ZERO.
Now, there are two, because misery loves company.
Drew Brees had numbers that slightly exceeded Luck’s, with 423 yards on 42 passes, and those four touchdowns. Unlike the Colts, the Saints were playing from ahead, leading 24-13 in the third quarter at home. We’ve seen plenty of big comebacks in recent years, but most have required the offense that is leading to stop picking up first downs, or turn the ball over. The Saints were still moving the ball, but gave up 25 points on the last four Oakland possessions, had a missed field goal by rookie Wil Lutz, and ran out of time and had to try another desperation long field goal to win as time expired.
Things could be worse (having a bad offense), but it has to be disheartening to have two quarterbacks at home having the games that Luck and Brees did, and losing. This is doubly true because they weren’t playing Super Bowl favorites. Of the teams that have lost in shootouts in the past in week 1, doing so to one of the best teams in the league has not been a poor indicator. The Giants, for example, lost in a shootout to Dallas, on the road, back in 2007, and avenged that in the playoffs.
But Oakland and Detroit or more playoff hopeful than league favorite. These are the kind of games the Colts and Saints have to win at home if they want to collectively exorcise the recent past.
BEST OPENING EVER? CERTAINLY THE CLOSEST
Yesterday featured only one game that was decided by double digits (Philadelphia over Cleveland) and several tight affairs that were decided late. Four games were decided by a single point, two others by 2 points (and the Colts-Lions game would have been but for a safety on the final lateral play).
The average margin of victory in week 1 was 5.1 points. Here are the five lowest average margins on opening weekend since the merger:
Two games remain tonight. Unless those two (Washington-Pittsburgh; Los Angeles-San Francisco) are decided by a combined 48 points or more, it will be the closest opening weekend since (at least) 1970.
PLAYOFF TEAMS FLIRT WITH DANGER, BUT GO PERFECT 6-0 AGAINST 2015 NON-PLAYOFF TEAMS
At halftime (or perhaps even later), things looked bad for several playoff teams from 2015. The Chiefs trailed the Chargers 21-3 at home. Houston was behind the Bears. The Bengals were behind the Jets on the road. Green Bay trailed at Jacksonville until a late touchdown to end the first half, and was in a close contest all day. The Vikings were down 10-0 at Tennessee in the first game without Teddy Bridgewater. Oh, and Seattle at home as a huge favorite found themselves trailing by 4 points against Miami late in the game.
In the end, though, the 2015 playoff teams finished the week with a combined 6-0 record against non-playoff teams. The only other playoff teams in action were last year’s NFC #1 seed (Carolina) at last year’s AFC #1 seed (Denver), and the AFC #2 seed (New England) at the NFC #2 seed (Arizona). Washington and Pittsburgh also play tonight.
Over the previous 5 years, teams that have reached the playoffs the year before were 20-16 against non-playoff teams.
That 6-0 mark is unusual, and probably a sign that the status quo is going to be hard to change in 2016. That’s particularly true when you consider some of the injury and other issues the playoff teams that won have faced.
60% of playoff teams have returned to the playoffs the next year over the last five seasons. However, those that lost the opener to a non-playoff team only returned 3 of 16 times. Exclude those teams, and 75% of playoff teams return to the postseason.
[photos via USA Today Sports Images]