Just ask Gared, the ranger from the pilot of “Game of Thrones.” Gared actually helped kick off the series that went on to become the most illegally downloaded television show — and the most frequently referenced television show of this weekly column — by appearing in the first-ever scene. His time, however, did not last long. Before the very first opening credits even began rolling across the screen, his head had already been separated from his neck by a White Walker, who then tossed that body-less head across the snow toward Gared’s (may he rest in peace) Night’s Watch buddy. This is the part where I’d normally insert a GIF of the scene I’m referring to, but this particular one involves a sword, a chopped off head, and a White Walker, so we’ll go GIF free this time around.
Gared’s death was unfortunate, but served as the first of many reminders that the war in the south — the one waged over an iron chain — hardly mattered at all when an army of White Walkers lurked to the north. Gared’s death mattered, even if he didn’t.
Ask Walter White — the high school teacher who was diagnosed with cancer in the first episode of “Breaking Bad,” which set him down a path that involves far too many drugs. Or ask Jack Bauer, who received an innocuous work call in the middle of the night in the series premiere of “24,” which ended up keeping him busy for 24 consecutive hours, during which he definitely didn’t sleep or use the restroom.
You could also ask the 2015 Denver Broncos . They opened up the season by beating the Baltimore Ravens , 19-13. Brandon McManus connected on all four of his field goals, including two from beyond 55 yards, and Aqib Talib returned an interception 51 yards to the house. The Peyton Manning-led offense did not score a single point. Still, the Broncos won riding on the back of their defense, which limited the Ravens to fewer than 175 yards of total offense.
At the time, most of us — me — figured that the game would be an aberration. Sure, the defense would continue to function as a top unit, but eventually, Manning and the offense would begin putting up record numbers.
Manning’s 256 yards and three touchdowns in a nailbiting win over the Kansas City Chiefs four days later, and Bradley Roby ‘s “Don’t talk about Peyton no more” on-camera statement after that game seemed to back up that belief. But Manning never turned into Manning. It never happened. He got benched for Brock Osweiler .
The Broncos ended up winning the Super Bowl, but they won the Super Bowl riding a historically dominant defense and lucking out in 11 of 14 one-score games (including the playoffs). That first win ended up being the exact recipe of the Broncos’ Super Bowl season.
Beginning’s matter — especially in the NFL, where every team is only guaranteed 16 games and seven losses is often enough to disqualify teams from the postseason. Teams can’t afford to chalk up a Week 1 loss as a warmup game, not because the first game of the season is more important than any other week, but because the first game is equally important. There is no warmup in the NFL. There is no easing into the season.
According to NFL.com, teams that win their season openers are more than twice as likely to book a playoff spot than those who lose their first game of the season. That’s a statistic that dates back to 1978, when the NFL’s schedule switched to 16 games, and it doesn’t include the 1982 shortened season.
The exact numbers, via NFL.com:
- Of the 554 teams that won their openers, 288 of them made the playoffs (173 won their divisions).
- Of the 555 teams that lost their openers, 134 of them made the playoffs (77 won their divisions).
Week 1 matters. Just ask the Broncos and, of course, Gared.
His watch ended, but the stats are only just beginning.
1. The best records on opening day
It’s opening weekend! So here are the teams with the best winning percentages on opening weekend, per NFL.com:
- Dallas Cowboys :. 673
- Broncos: .655
- Chicago Bears : .593
- Green Bay Packers : .576
- San Diego Chargers : .571
- Houston Texans : .571
The Tony Romo-less Cowboys face the New York Giants (loss), the Broncos scraped by the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, the Bears travel to Houston to take on the Texans (50-50), the Packers play the Jacksonville Jaguars (Pete Prisco surprisingly says that’s a loss), and the Chargers play the Chiefs (loss, but Will Brinson still says they’re playoff-bound as the AFC West champs while the Chiefs will finish last).
2. Jimmy Garoppolo ‘s tough task
Tom Brady did us all a favor by ending the Deflategate saga and accepting his four-game suspension, but he also doomed the New England Patriots , at least for their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night. Jimmy Garoppolo might end up being the Patriots’ next version of Matt Cassel — according to SportsLine, the Patriots still project to start 3-1 without Brady — but he probably won’t begin his tenure with a win.
His first game? Against the Cardinals in Arizona. This would’ve been a fascinating matchup between the AFC and NFC runner-ups, but due to a scandal about mildly deflated footballs, which totally affected the outcome of a 45-7 game, which occurred 18 months ago, the game becomes a whole lot less interesting.
For Garoppolo to win his first-ever NFL start, he’ll need to defeat a team that ranked third in defensive DVOA, fifth in yards allowed, seventh in points surrendered, second in takeaways, and added Chandler Jones this offseason to fix the one area it struggled in — sacks (tied for 20th). He’ll be forced to keep pace with an offense that ranked fourth in DVOA, first in yards gained, and second in points scored.
He’ll also need to do something that hasn’t been done since 1969.
Jimmy Garoppolo: 1st career start Sunday. Prev 7 QB whose 1st start was vs Cardinals in an opener all lost. Last to win? Roger Staubach 1969
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 7, 2016
According to NFL.com, the Cardinals have won six straight home season-openers.
3. Brady’s suspension impacts a historic list
Unless they meet in the Super Bowl — they won’t because the New Orleans Saints ‘ defense is garbage — Tom Brady and Drew Brees won’t compete directly against each other during the season. They will, however, continue to go head-to-head on a pretty important list.
Both Brees and Brady have thrown for 428 touchdowns — tied for the third-most in NFL history. They’re both old, but plan on playing for a while longer. Brady, 39, once expressed belief that he’d remain in the NFL until 2020 and Brees, 37, just signed an extension with the Saints, telling ESPN’s Mike Triplett that he wants to play for longer than two more seasons.
Give the advantage to Brees, though. He’s not only the younger quarterback, but he will also get a four-game head start this year — again, all because of a scandal about mildly deflated footballs, which totally affected the outcome of a 45-7 game, which occurred 18 months ago.
4. Mark Sanchez still sucks
The butt fumble is funny because it involved a butt forcing a quarterback to fumble, which was then recovered and returned for a touchdown. That’s easy enough for anyone to see. It’s the funniest play of Mark Sanchez’s career.
It’s also the most fitting play of Mark Sanchez’s career, because Mark Sanchez sucks. He turns the ball over at the highest rate among all active quarterbacks.
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) September 3, 2016
The Cowboys will not be in safe hands if Dak Prescott goes down before Tony Romo returns.
5. Sam Bradford is not better than Shaun Hill
Two weeks before the season, the Minnesota Vikings lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a torn up knee. In an instant, Shaun Hill went from 36-year-old irrelevant quarterback to 36-year-old quarterback of a playoff contender. But just over a week before the season, Hill became nearly as irrelevant as he was before Bridgewater’s gruesome injury.
That’s because, to land an even worse quarterback, the Vikings sent a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick, which can turn into a even higher pick, to the Philadelphia Eagles .
Yep, you read that right. Sam Bradford is a worse quarterback than Shaun Hill — statistically, at least.
|Comp. %||YPA||TD %||INT %||Passer rating|
At the very least, they’re not all that different. Just ask Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey, whose team faces the Vikings on Sunday.
Mularkey said Bradford and Hill similar enough that Titans don’t have to prepare for both
— John Glennon (@glennonsports) September 7, 2016
There is, though, one statistic that Bradford has an advantage in: Age.
He’s 28. Hill is 36.
Bradford started 14 games a season ago. Hill last started a game in 2014. And that’s the main reason why Bradford is an upgrade for the Vikings. Bradford is a middling quarterback today, Hill probably isn’t, given how much time he’s spent on the bench in his 14-year career.
Robert Griffin III has 1 more NFL start than Shaun Hill in his career.
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) September 8, 2016
Plus, he makes questionable decisions.
Shaun Hill says the only thing he watches on tv is junior Disney
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 7, 2016
With all that being said, trading a first-round pick to rent Bradford? No thanks.
6. The Buffalo Bills should try to not give up 20 points
On Sunday, the Bills face the Ravens in Baltimore. Based on last season, they should have one goal in mind: Don’t give up 20 points.
Per STATS, the Bills went 1-8 last year when they gave up 20 or more points, including an 0-5 record on the road. Here are the two dudes in charge of making sure that doesn’t happen again this year:
Rex brought in his brother Rob after his failed stint in New Orleans. Rex brought in this guy:
From @FiveThirtyEight: Rob Ryan’s defenses’ rankings in points: 4th, 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 24th, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th, 31st, 32nd.
— Mike Schopp (@Schopptalk) September 8, 2016
Meanwhile, first-round pick Shaq Lawson underwent shoulder surgery and landed on the PUP list, Marcell Dareus is suspended for four games, and Reggie Ragland and IK Enemkpali are done for the season.
7. Bad news for the Bears
The Bears have never beaten the Texans, losing all three of their previous matchups. That doesn’t matter.
What does matter is J.J. Watt ‘s availability. Despite being operated on for a bad back two months ago, Watt is playing on Sunday. That’s bad news for the Bears.
The stats don’t lie in this case:
The Bears, though, might be equipped to deal with Watt. Kyle Long , who’s been dealing with a labrum injury, should be good to go at right guard, his best position, after spending last season at right tackle. And newly signed Josh Sitton will slot in at left guard, giving the Bears one of the best guard combinations in the league.
And now: An important Jay Cutler hair update
Still majestic, even in the preseason.
OK, back to the stats.
8. Akiem Hicks : Texans destroyer
The Bears signed Akiem Hicks away from the Patriots this offseason, which is one reason why I’m bullish about the Bears this year — look at that front-seven! That signing has Bill O’Brien not very happy ahead of Week 1.
Last year, Hicks destroyed the Texans.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien on Akiem Hicks: “He gave us a lot of problems last year.”
Hicks had 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits for the Pats.
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) September 7, 2016
Have fun, Brock Osweiler.
9. Drew Brees can join Peyton Manning
Meaningless stat alert! According to NFL.com, Brees has racked up 3,883 passing yards in his Week 1 career. If he throws for 117 yards against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, he will join Peyton Manning as the only two quarterbacks with 4,000 career passing yards in Week 1.
It will most likely happen. In 217 career games, Brees has failed to hit 117 yards just nine times. It hasn’t happened since 2006.
10. AP didn’t play in the preseason and that’s OK
More meaningless Week 1 stats!
If you’re panicked about Adrian Peterson ‘s absence from the preseason, do not fear. According to NFL.com, Peterson has accumulated 854 rushing yards in his Week 1 career. If he gains 146 yards against the Titans, he’ll become the fifth player to reach 1,000 rushing yards in Week 1. The other four players: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Edgerrin James, and Jim Brown.
Why you should actually be concerned about Peterson: He’s 31.
Why that shouldn’t concern you: He’s an ageless machine.
Peterson is two touchdowns away from tying Barry Sanders for the ninth-most rushing touchdowns of all-time. He’s also three touchdowns away from reaching 100 rushing touchdowns. Only eight other running backs have done that: Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marcus Allen, Walter Payton, Jim Brown, John Riggins, Shaun Alexander, and Marshall Faulk.
11. Larry Fitzgerald is set to move into the top-10
Speaking of old talents, let’s talk about Larry Fitzgerald, because the Cardinals receiver is also going to move up the leaderboard this season.
In his 12-year career, he’s caught 1,018 passes, which ranks just outside the top-10. With three more receptions, he’ll pass Jason Witten for 10th all-time. With seven more, he’ll pass Isaac Bruce.
That could happen against the Patriots on Sunday night.
12. The Cincinnati Bengals ‘ woes in New York
It’s been 35 years since the Bengals traveled to New York to face the New York Jets and left town with a win. The last time they beat the Jets on the road (Sept. 13, 1981, according to STATS), their starting quarterback was Ken Anderson.
Since that win, the Bengals have lost nine straight road games to the Jets by an average of 12 points.
13. Battle of the most-sacked QBs
Since 2012, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 184 times and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 164 times. Those are the two highest totals in the NFL in that span.
The two most-sacked quarterbacks of the past four years will face each other Sunday.
Some not good news for the Seahawks: Germain Ifedi , Seattle’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, is dealing with a high ankle sprain, which turns an already bad situation into a laughable one, as CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin wrote:
When your left tackle is a guy with 12 starts in four years who has bounced around special teams units and practice squads ( Bradley Sowell ), your right tackle is best known for catching a pass on a fake field goal and getting destroyed by Robert Quinn in his first start as a right tackle ( Garry Gilliam ), your center is a former failed tackle ( Justin Britt ), and your guards are a 2015 fourth-rounder with one career start ( Mark Glowinski ) and a rookie transitioning from tackle to guard (Germain Ifedi), it’s not exactly the best situation to be in.
Run, Russell. Run.
14. The Indianapolis Colts ‘ last 100-yard and 1,000-yard rushers
Speaking of running, the Colts don’t do that all too well.
The last time one of their players rushed for at least 100 yards in a single game? Dec. 16, 2012. The last time one of their players rushed for 1,000 yards in a single season? 2007, when Joseph Addai was still a thing.
Last year, Frank Gore got oh so close to snapping both of those streaks. In the Colts’ fifth game of the season, Gore came up two yards shy of 100. And in the final game of the season, Gore needed 109 rushing yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark. He ended up with 76 yards.
Fantasy stat of the week
Don’t underrate Tyrod Taylor and Andy Dalton .
Top 5 QBs in fantasy points/dropback in ’15:
Cam Newton: 0.73
Russell Wilson: 0.60
Tyrod Taylor: 0.59
Andy Dalton: 0.59
Carson Palmer: 0.57
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) August 14, 2016
- In 88 straight games, the Seahawks have been within one score in the fourth quarter. That’s the longest streak in NFL history, per Football Outsiders’ 2016 Almanac, which you can acquire here.
- The Seahawks also haven’t lost a game by more than 10 points since Oct. 30, 2011, including the postseason. That was midway through Pete Carroll’s second season as the Seahawks’ coach.
- Russell Wilson is the middle of the fourth longest starting streak to start a career (74 including the playoffs), according to Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar.
- The Cowboys are 1-13 in the past three seasons without Romo under center. According to Sports on Earth’s Kenneth Arthur, the Cowboys are 78-49 when Romo starts and 10-23 without him in the past decade.
Drinking game of the week
The drinking game of the season remains the Jared Goff sad face drinking game, which means you should drink every time Goff looks like this:
The drinking game of Week 1 is to take a shot whenever Aaron Rodgers gets a Jaguars’ defender to jump offside using the hard count and whenever Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls runs out of bounds (he doesn’t run out of bounds ever).
Quote of the week! (the Bennett Bros’ space)
So, it turns out there’s nothing but land in North Dakota.
Jordan Matthews on Wentz’s ability to throw the deep ball: “There’s nothing but land in North Dakota so they’re used to slinging, you know?”
— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) September 8, 2016
Bad quote of the week! (Russell Wilson’s space)
Jared Goff just wants to have fun and go up 14-0.
Hey, maybe even 21-0.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Brady vs. Brees, Bradford vs. Hill: 14 stats to know for Week 1 of 2016 NFL season