As the majority of the NFL starts their preseason games in the next four days, there is one very important thing that we as spectators and fans must keep in mind as we watch these games:
The final score does not matter.
Until September, the scoreboard is meaningless. There are things that happen during these games that will have lasting effects on a team’s season, but winning and losing games that don’t count in the standings aren’t it.
So what is meaningful to watch for in preseason exhibition games?
- Injuries: This one is obvious. There is a reason why Drew Brees played only one series against the Cardinals. He is too valuable to risk in garbage time. It’s not just the season-ending injuries to watch for though. You also have to watch to see if someone pulls a hamstring, bruises a shoulder, or sprains a knee or an ankle. Those are the type of injuries that linger throughout a season and cause a player to miss four games and parts of others. Those injuries are deceptive and can give false hope. If a player is declared to be out for the season early, the team is forced to deal with it and move on without them. The lingering injuries cause a week-to-week guessing game throughout the season on if that player is good to go.
- Game-Readiness: Preseason games are played in the most ideal conditions possible with the exception of the summer heat. Stadiums aren’t full, grass fields should be pristine, and there’s a minimal amount of actual decision-making that needs to be done. There is no excuse for the first or second offense to get delay of game or false start penalties. There is no significant crowd noise, the plays, formations, and substitutions being sent in are as basic as they get. If the offense can’t get the play sent in, get everyone lined up correctly, and snap the ball in the 40 seconds (or 25 depending on the situation) allotted, then there is a problem. Watch how collected the sideline is during these games. It tells a lot about a coaching staff and how well they have been practicing like they play in a game.
- Special Teams: There are usually about forty players competing for about eight spots on the active roster during the preseason. Special teams are where they get noticed. There are usually some great collisions on the punt and kickoff teams during preseason games by players you have never heard of. This is the only reason to watch these games past halftime.
Calling these exhibitions ‘games’ is an insult to the games themselves. I think that they should get rid of exhibitions in game form and replace them with some kind of an NFL-standardized scrimmage with different game situations. Keeping score in these competitions just clouds the issue and gives a false sense of how good a team is during the preseason. But with that in mind, I am very pleased that there is some football to watch because I can’t take anymore baseball. Just don’t take the results of these games too seriously.