What does NFL Preseason really mean, and does it really matter?
A question that creates a decent amount of discussion this time of year is the obligatory; does preseason really matter? Some argue that preseason does not matter. They reason that no one remembers preseason and that after four games everyone is 0-0 again, so in the end, while preseason might be fun, it does not really matter. Others argue that preseason games do matter; that what happens in preseason creates momentum; that winning (or losing) in preseason sets a tone. After watching and then reviewing the first two preseason games played by the Seahawks, it is easy to feel like both arguments contain elements of truth. When I see something I really like, preseason suddenly matters. When I see a receiver tip a catchable ball into the arms of a waiting DB who then returns it for a TD I am content to mutter: “Whew, it’s only preseason.”
The truth is–preseason does matter. The question, properly phrased really becomes which parts of preseason matter and how much we should read into the record of our favorite team? Taking a look at the preseason from the standpoint of win/loss, there is little correlation between success in the preseason and success in the regular season. Consider the 2009 Seattle Seahawks’ 4-0 preseason record. Expectations were high going into that season but the 5-11 finish was depressing, even if it was a one game win improvement from the previous year.
And a few more interesting stats courtesy of SportsDelve.com:
Since 2000, only 45% of teams that went undefeated in the preseason went on to have a winning record during the regular season.
Since 2000, 48% of teams that went undefeated in the preseason, finished the regular season with a losing record.
Only seven teams have gone from an undefeated preseason to a win a Super Bowl in the same year: 1967 Packers, 1969 Chiefs, 1971 Cowboys, 1974 Steelers, 1990 Giants, 2000 Ravens, and the 2003 Patriots.
Only the 1982 Redskins went winless in the preseason only to win a Super Bowl that same year.
It seems pretty clear that there is certainly the potential for letdown if one believes that preseason serves as a good predictor of the regular season. It is nice to be hopeful and I believe in momentum as much as the next person when it comes to football, but the preseason and the regular season are just two different seasons as it relates to scores and team win/loss totals.
So if preseason performances don’t promise success (or even a winning record) how does preseason matter?
Preseason gives guys a chance to make a team. Most guys who make it to the NFL are living a dream they’ve been pursuing for many years. Most have sacrificed a great deal, worked harder than they’ve ever worked and committed to a dream that so few will ever realize. Preseason in the NFL is like the playoffs for undrafted free agents or guys looking to earn a second chance in the league. Ask Mike Williams if preseason (and training camp) matter. Ask Doug Baldwin or Josh Portis. Preseason is where guys try out their dream of playing in the NFL. Considering teams have to cut down to a 53 man roster, every player who is not locked in has the short window of preseason to fight for a spot. To those guys, to the guys who will get asked to grab their playbooks and follow a guy to an office where they’ll be told that they are going to be cut; preseason absolutely matters. And it mattered to guys over the years who earned roster spots though undrafted, guys like: Dave Krieg, Mike Tice, Joe Nash, Jim Zorn, and eventual Seahawks QB, Warren Moon. What would our history look like without camp and preseason? Think of the moments and games that would have been different without those players. Yes, preseason matters.
Preseason also matters because while game losses reset and are wiped clean when the regular season begins, injuries do not. Coming away from a preseason game with a losing score of 42-0 is less painful than coming away with a star player seriously injured. I won’t comment one word about the Seahawks as it relates to injuries because I refuse to jinx us, but if you want to see injury decimation, take a look at the New York Giants. So far in this preseason they’ve lost DT Marvin Austin for the season with a Pectoral injury. DBs Brian Witherspoon (knee); Prince Amukamara (foot, out until early October); Bruce Johnson (Achilles’); and Chad Jones (Leg) are out for the season. The cost of preseason (whether on the field for a game or for during training camp) can be high.
Finally, preseason matters to me because I love football. I love watching my Seahawks play regardless of whether the game “officially” counts or not because I enjoy the game, enjoy the energy, and enjoy watching up and coming players get a shot at their dream. I enjoy seeing how draft picks are working out, and I enjoy seeing the veterans get some time; a preview of the great things to come in the regular season.
In some respects, preseason could not matter less. The scores don’t count and once regular season begins, no one cares about the preseason record. But preseason does carry with it the hopes and dreams of guys trying to make a team, and the very real and career changing injuries that can (and do) occur; sometimes in biggest games, and sometimes in the most meaningless.
Preseason is a necessary risk. It is good for fans as well as for the majority of players. I watch every year and will continue to do so as long as preseason games are played. Not because it gives me a preview of the upcoming year, but because I love football, and a game that doesn’t count is still far better than a game un-played.