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Running The Numbers: Starting Hot - History of Week 1 Games

Posted Sep 3, 2012

In 1993, running back Emmitt Smith held out of the team’s first two games due to a contract dispute. The Cowboys lost both contests, starting the season 0-2 after taking down the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl just seven months prior. Things looked gloomy in Big D; fans were convinced the ’Boys were suffering from a Super Bowl hangover and sure to miss the playoffs.

So naturally the Cowboys won 15 of their final 17 games (including playoffs), once again dominating the Bills in the Super Bowl for their second straight NFL championship.

That 1993 season was a rare one, though. Teams that make their way into the season’s final game obviously play well late in the year, but they generally start hot, too. Since 1990, the 22 Super Bowl champions have compiled a .773 winning percentage in the first game of the season – higher than the .745 mark they posted in the rest of their regular season games.

While teams that play deep into January generally found success in September, squads that won their season opener have typically performed better than those that lost it. Since 2007, winners in the NFL’s first week have gone on to claim victory in 56.8 percent of their remaining games. With a sample size of 1,200 games, that’s a pretty significant result.

The Cowboys have had their fair share of Week 1 success over the years, winning 34 of the 52 openers in franchise history. At one point, Dallas managed to win an incredible 17 straight games in the season’s first week, compiling wins to start each season from 1965 to 1981.

Since 1990, though, the team has been mediocre on opening day, winning 12 of their 22 matchups. In the 12 seasons that the Cowboys won their first game, they totaled a .606 winning percentage in the rest of their regular season contests. When they lost their initial game, that winning percentage dropped to .507.

In the past two seasons, the Cowboys have suffered heartbreaking losses in Week 1. In 2010, the ’Boys dominated the Washington Redskins, outgaining them by 130 yards. An untimely Tashard Choice fumble just prior to halftime really altered momentum, however, and a last-second game-winning touchdown pass to Roy Williams was called back because of a holding penalty on Alex Barron. That loss really set the tone for the remainder of the Cowboys’ 6-10 season.

Last year, the Cowboys held a 24-10 lead over the New York Jets early in the fourth quarter. A blocked Mat McBriar punt was returned for a touchdown and an untimely Tony Romo interception led to the Cowboys’ collapse, however, and the team once again turned in a disappointing record of 8-8.

Entering Wednesday night’s massive matchup with the New York Giants, there’s clearly a lot on the line for Dallas. A loss won’t annihilate the team’s playoff hopes by any means, but a road win over a division rival in the first NFL game of the year could very well propel the Cowboys toward the postseason for the first time in three years.

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