Mark Sanchez continues to talk like he’s taken too many “hard knocks” to the head, boasting “there’s nothing wrong with going 15-1” to the New York Post after an embarrassing 74-yard performance on Monday night, but the Ravens (1-0) now put the delusional Jets in the rear-view mirror and shift their focus to the Cincinnati Bengals — and the accompanying Twitter sparring with Chad Ochocinco.
As ugly as it may have been, what does the 10-9 victory mean for the Ravens and their fate in the 2010 season? If history is any indication, good things await.
In reality, a victory in Week 1 counts no more or less than the remaining 15 games on the schedule. But from the time the schedule is released in April, the opening game and opponent is dissected — even obsessed over — for nearly five months, longer than any other game the Ravens could potentially play this season, including the Super Bowl. It means more only because we — fans and media — look forward to it for so long.
However, the team’s first 14 seasons in Baltimore suggests the first game is a strong indicator of how the team will fare for the entire season. The Ravens had previously won six openers, subsequently advancing to the postseason five times. Of the eight times the Ravens fell in Week 1, they made the playoffs just once.
Of course, many variables factor into the Week 1 outcome and its correlation with season-long success, such as the quality of the opponent, the team’s overall health, and whether they start at home or away. In most cases — as is the case around the league — the Ravens won the opener when they were expected to be good and lost when they weren’t.
For perspective, of the 12 teams to advance to the playoffs in 2009, only the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals lost in Week 1. Logically and quite obviously, playoff teams win more often than they lose, so it’s unsurprising to look back at Week 1 success as a fairly accurate predictor in most cases.
Considering most playoff teams will lose somewhere in the range of four to six games and most bad squads will win four to six, the Ravens’ strong Week 1 correlation with the season’s postseason fate is interesting to examine. Of their 14 previous seasons in Baltimore, an opening Ravens win meant playoffs and a loss meant no postseason 86 percent of the time (accurate 12 of 14 years).
As was the case with the Bengals and Cardinals a season ago, losing the opener does not sentence a team for failure, so perhaps the Jets won’t need to muzzle the trash talk just yet (as if they need anyone’s blessing anyway?). The 2003 Super Bowl champion Patriots are the perfect example, finishing with a 14-2 record after losing 31-0 to the Bills in Week 1. Buffalo finished 6-10 despite the shocking victory over the eventual champs.
A look back at the Ravens’ history in Week 1 reveals several teams with high expectations who disappointed after a season-opening loss and a couple that laid the groundwork for great seasons with a surprising victory to begin the year.
The Ravens’ opening opponent and result is listed below with their final record and postseason fate listed in parentheses:
1996 Oakland W (4-12, missed playoffs)
1997 Jacksonville L (6-9-1, missed playoffs)
1998 Pittsburgh L (6-10, missed playoffs)
1999 @St. Louis L (8-8, missed playoffs)
2000 @Pittsburgh W (12-4, won Super Bowl)
2001 Chicago W (10-6, earned wild-card berth)
2002 @Carolina L (7-9, missed playoffs)
2003 @Pittsburgh L (10-6, won AFC North)
2004 @Cleveland L (9-7, missed playoffs)
2005 Indianapolis L (6-10, missed playoffs)
2006 @Tampa Bay W (13-3, won AFC North)
2007 @Cincinnati L (5-11, missed playoffs)
2008 Cincinnati W (11-5, earned wild-card berth and advanced to AFC Championship)
2009 Kansas City W (9-7, earned wild-card berth)
2010 @New York Jets W (???)
The inaugural 1996 team was the only one not to qualify for the postseason after opening with a victory. In contrast, the 2003 Ravens won the franchise’s first AFC North title despite a humbling 34-15 defeat to the Steelers at Heinz Field in rookie Kyle Boller’s first start.
Expectations were high in 2004, 2005, and 2007, but the Ravens laid a Week 1 egg in each case, setting the table for disappointing seasons in which they missed the playoffs. However, nobody thought the 2008 Ravens — with rookie head coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco — would go on to an 11-5 season and an appearance in the conference championship game, but their bruising 17-10 victory over the Bengals showed what was to come.
Taking a deeper look at the Ravens’ Week 1 history might cause fans to book their hotels and airfare for the Dallas area in the first week of February after the win at New Meadowlands Stadium on Monday night. The only other times the Ravens have begun the season with a road victory were 2000 and 2006.
In 2006, the Ravens had moderate expectations after the trade for veteran quarterback Steve McNair, but a dominating 27-0 victory at Tampa Bay was the first step to a 13-3 record, the best regular season record in franchise history.
And what followed in the weeks and months after the Ravens’ 16-0 victory at Three Rivers Stadium to begin the 2000 campaign? I think you remember that story.
In reality, the 2010 version of the Ravens is a different team with no connection to previous seasons, other than the ageless Ray Lewis leading the defense for the 15th straight year. Nearly 23 percent of the players on the current 53-man roster played elsewhere in 2009.
But if the team’s history in Week 1 provides an accurate window to what lies ahead for Baltimore, Monday night was a far more beautiful sight than what the ugly 10-9 win might have indicated to a national TV audience.