In short, nothing. Obviously anything could happen and I still want to be positive about this season. But I think for those of us who are also pragmatic and realistic about our history and how opening day usually dictates how the rest of our season will go, some analysis is required so that maybe the people calling us negative nancys understand where we're coming from. I'll start off with the broader picture, then scale it down to a team perspective.
1. The idea that an opening day loss doesn't mean anything is complete and utter horseshit.
Throughout the week, you'll hear dumb people say dumb things on network tv about how better than 30% of all playoff teams lost on opening day. While this is wonderful statistic if you enjoy clinging to false hope much like pantherclaw clinging to the ass end of a caribou on those lonely Alaskan nights, it's completely meaningless without context. I'll show you what I mean. Below are playoff teams from the past three seasons who lost on opening day.
Bengals (Lost to fellow playoff team Baltimore)
Packers (Lost to fellow playoff team San Francisco)
Saints (Lost to fellow playoff team Green Bay)
Steelers (Lost to fellow playoff team Baltimore)
Jets (Lost to fellow playoff team Baltimore)
Eagles (Lost to fellow playoff team Green Bay)
Falcons (Lost to fellow playoff team Pittsburgh)
There are two things you should take away from this.
1. Most teams who lose opening day and still make the playoffs have or had at the time consistent success. New York, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and New Orleans are all Super bowl winners in the past five years. Others like Falcons have been perennial playoff teams since 2008.
2. 4-6 playoff teams will end up playing one another on opening weekend. Someone has to lose. If you take those out of consideration, you have 2 teams in 2012, 3 in 2011, and 1 in 2010 who lost to a non-playoff team and still made the playoffs. Not nearly as rosy of a picture is it? While Seattle could be a playoff team again this year, right now they're just a team who came to our house and beat us. However, it's more promising than losing to Arizona or Tampa Bay on opening day. Progress!
2. What we do on opening day is a good indicator of what we do that season.
This is mostly going to be a numbers thing. Carolina has had four playoff seasons in our history: 1996, 2003, 2005, 2008. Of those, only one (or 25%) occured during a season in which we lost our opener. This is the lone season out of 12 where we've lost opening day and still made the playoffs. A whopping 8%. Conversely, when we win opening day, we've went to the playoffs 3 times out of six. I don't know about you, but 50% is a lot more appealing than 8.
3. We've proven we have to start off fast to get in.
Every playoff season we've had (with the exception of 2005, although we did start off 6-2 there) has been the result of a fast start. In 1996 we won our first three games. In 2003 we won our first five games. 2008 we won our first two games. The only season where we've started off fast and failed to make the playoffs was in 2003 where we went 3-0 and didn't qualify. That was basically Shayne Graham's fault though, fuging ginger.
The reality of the situation is this: We're a young team with no consistency and just now maybe starting to form an identity. Losing your first game can be devastating if you're not having consistent success from season to season. This is why when we start off losing, we continue to lose, and only win when we come out of the gate on fire, which we certainly didn't do yesterday.