Week 1 losses hurt, especially for teams with Super Bowl aspirations. The Carolina Panthers, last year’s runner-up, fell to the Denver Broncos in the season opener after being favored by 3.5 points on the road. Another title favorite, the Arizona Cardinals, lost in Week 1 to a depleted New England Patriots squad.
The percentage of NFL teams that make the playoffs after losing their first game of the season is 25%. Of course Carolina and Arizona are no ordinary teams. Each franchise won at least 12 games last year.
According to research done by FiveThirtyEight.com, teams that won 12 or more games in the previous season are 37% likely to reach the postseason if they start 0-1 the following year (up from 25% for ordinary 0-1 teams). Historically speaking, if Carolina and Arizona each win in Week 2 (both teams are favored) they will have a 57% chance to participate in the postseason. However, dropping to 0-2 would be disasterous. Even for teams that won 12 games the previous season, a 0-2 start would mean just a one-in-five chance of returning to the playoffs.
We know how teams have performed in the past but what about these specific iterations of the Panthers and Cardinals? After 10,000 simulations of the 2016 season we project Carolina and Arizona to make the playoffs.
According to the simulations, the Panthers have a 73.9% chance (down from 76.5% before the season began) and the Cardinals have a 48.7% chance (down from 57.7%) to reach the postseason. Both teams are more likely to make the playoffs than the other 0-1 teams that won 12 or more games the previous season. Though history and the current simulations do not agree on the playoff probabilities the numbers would align with additional losses. Neither team can afford to drop to 0-2.