The NFL preseason is such a bittersweet thing. For the first time in months, we get to see our favorite teams back on the field. We get to see our newest players in action for the first time, watch our old favorites knock off the rust, and it’s relatively low stakes because the result of the game doesn’t matter. However, that doesn’t stop some fans from getting a little too involved with the outcomes of the games, so today we’re going to talk about separating our enjoyment of meaningless scrimmages from regular season expectations.
Preseason Games Are Not for the Fans
First thing’s first, while the coaches and players are trying to win these games, that’s not their biggest priority. The proven veterans are trying to knock off the rust and establish some chemistry with newer teammates, guys on the roster bubble are fighting to make the team, and rookies are acclimating to the difference between collegiate and NFL speed. Coaches are trying to see which guys can play, and which guys should go. That’s all.
Ideally, coaches see that players can fill their intended role, they knock off the rust, and they get to September without any major injuries. If they happen to win those games, great, if not, they won’t lose any sleep over it.
This is fairly common information, but there are still people that will read into a team’s preseason success or an individual statistical achievements and make incorrect assumptions about the following season. This is a bad move to make for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the level of competition is nowhere near the same. You might fall in love with an undrafted rookie’s 100 yard rushing performance in a preseason game, but in all likelihood, he’s going up against other guys with similar league experience. The majority of guys he was running over or around were likely cut a week later.
Secondly, no coach in their right mind uses anything but the most vanilla plays and schemes during the preseason. You’re not going to see anyone give away their tricks or secrets in a game that doesn’t change the overall standings. So defenses aren’t throwing anything complicated at quarterbacks or tailbacks and the coverages aren’t complicated enough to breed sacks or turnovers.
And finally, the great players don’t spend a ton of time playing in preseason games. Most of the time, you’re lucky to see them play a full half. Some veterans don’t play in the preseason at all, because they don’t want to risk the injury. So if you think that the running back that went off earlier might be someone to look at in fantasy football, you have to remember there’s a good chance he’s not even the intended starter.
Don’t get attached to a player who thrives against inferior competition running a vanilla defense in a game nobody takes seriously. That’s the coaches responsibility, which leads to my real point.
The Eye in the Sky
These scrimmages exist purely to give coaches an opportunity to see how guys play under the lights. Players like Terrell Davis made careers out of good preseason showings, and back-ups that became starters like Tom Brady worked their way up the roster based on preseason performances. The majority of the time, it’s the people you don’t even notice that make the biggest impressions on the coaches, and honestly, that’s what these games are about.
The 53rd man on every roster is just as important as the first, and it’s a long, grueling process to determine who gets to make up a NFL roster. David Tyree could’ve easily been cut from the New York Giants before the 2007 season, and then he wouldn’t have been there to make the legendary helmet catch. Superstars create highlights, but role players create opportunities. The fans at regular season games are like the audience at the coliseum, watching the best of the best battle it out. During the preseason, it’s more like watching your little cousin’s U12 soccer tournament at a public park.
Only two teams in NFL history have gone 0-16 during the regular season, the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns. Believe it or not, both teams went undefeated in the preseason. For perspective, the last team that would end up winning the Super Bowl that went undefeated in the preseason? The 2013 Seattle Seahawks. Before that, it was the New England Patriots in 2003. Over a pretty significant time period, the same number of teams that have gone undefeated in the preseason have won super bowls or gone winless. The results of these games have no effect on regular or post-season success.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that while everyone should feel encouraged to go catch a preseason game, or even watch intently at home, don’t take them too seriously. Make a note if someone makes a play, root for them to make the roster, but barring some kind of tragic injury, don’t let it impact your feelings about the team’s performance in the upcoming NFL season.