Data Points: Kickoff Game an accurate forecaster

Finally. The NFL schedule release on Tuesday has a lot of anxious folks around the league wondering what kind of journey their team will have to make to have a shot come mid January. And I’m not just talking about fans. General managers, coaching staffs and players all take great interest on who they play, and when.

Perhaps the most important game, at least from a league standpoint, is the Kickoff Game, which — since being instituted in 2002 — always comes on the Thursday night prior to Week 1’s Sunday games. Of course, it’s important that the NFL brandishes a sexy matchup, like last year’s Vikings-Saints tilt from the Big Easy. But perhaps more significant is how the clubs that participate on opening day fare the rest of the season.

Taking a look at the numbers, there’s no doubt that a trend exists: teams that win the Thursday Kickoff game usually have successful seasons. Going further, only one winning team on opening night ended up having a losing season: the Patrick Ramsey-led Redskins of 2003.

The other side of the coin is even more telling. The clubs that lost on opening night often stumbled through the rest of the season, with only two making the playoffs: the 2002 Giants and 2004 Colts. Both exited early in the playoffs. In fact, none of the losing teams has even made it as far as a conference championship game.

In case you’re wondering, only one winner of the Kickoff Game has ever gone on to take the Lombardi Trophy, the ’04 Patriots.

— Elliot Harrison

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