How important is the season opener? Obviously it is better to win than to lose but history says teams that win in week one are far more likely to go to the playoffs than those that lose. Pro Football Weekly’s Eric Edholm put the stat on twitter yesterday:
Good stat from @nfl: Of the 474 teams that won openers, 251 went to playoffs, Of 474 that lost openers, 111 went to playoffs.
I’m sure that some variation on that stat is true for every week of the NFL regular season but the result of the Lions-Bucs game is particularly important to start the season. The Bucs fell just short of the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record despite playing in one of football’s toughest divisions. The success they found last season combined with another year of experience for their young nucleus has them as a potential playoff team to watch as the season begins.
Likewise, the Detroit Lions are gaining ink as a rising team to watch that could wind up in the playoffs if things break their way. They can make their own break with a win in Tampa on Sunday.
The win wouldn’t be important because the stat referenced above says it is, it would be important because the Lions would have beaten one of their primary competitors for a playoff berth. Unless the Lions can somehow win the NFC North or the Bucs pull off an unexpected NFC South championship, both teams will be left fighting for the two wild card berths with a host of other NFC teams.
Sunday isn’t a must-win for the Lions and even if they do, it doesn’t mean it will be the start of a playoff run. It will mean that the Lions are off to a good start and have an early leg up on at least one other playoff contender. The game’s true importance won’t be known until much later in the season but don’t be surprised if the Lions or Bucs look back at it and see its importance in hindsight.