NFL preseason games may be meaningless from a win-loss standpoint, but it gives coaches the opportunity to put together the best possible team. It’s like a job interview. You don’t just grab a bunch of folks and say “hey, let’s go to work.” You interview and choose the right candidates based off how they perform in the process. That’s what preseason football is all about.
OK, I’m playing devil’s advocate here and arguing both sides of the issue. Is the NFL preseason worth it?
No, but also yes.
Let’s start with why preseason games are good. They provide opportunities to find the best personnel for the team.
Practices just don’t offer the same opportunity. While you can scrimmage in practice, simulating a game isn’t a good barometer for players’ abilities. Coaches need to understand how players will respond in in-game situations.
That, however, may be the only real positive. There are a lot more negatives to the NFL’s preseason.
First and foremost, the games are meaningless. They don’t count toward the ultimate goal of winning a championship. The wins and losses don’t matter, and the stats don’t matter. Every year, teams fnish winless in the preseason and go on to make the playoffs.
Secondly, the risk isn’t worth the reward.
Winning a preseason game—or even getting the extra reps for younger players—just isn’t worth losing a player for any extended amount of time.
Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers.
Both teams lost a significant piece to their offenses for the season in a preseason game last year.
While I don’t think players are any more or less susceptible to injury in August than they are in October, coaches are nonetheless faced with the decision of who to rest and who to play in these meaningless games.
Third reason: the fans.
Have you watched a preseason game and paid any attention to the seats? It looks like a late-nineties Pirates game. This past Thursday evening, in Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium was nearly empty as the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with perhaps the largest road contingent of any in the NFL. And no one cared.
Nobody is interested in the preseason anymore. The tickets are too expensive and half the time, you’re watching a group of guys that have a better chance of selling insurance in the fall than they do of playing on an NFL team.
Finally, there is a growing reluctance to play in the games at all. Even if the players want to be on the field, coaches are using their starters less and less in the preseason. Mike Tomlin barely used his stars at all. Maybe he he didn’t feel they needed to play, maybe he was concerned about the risk of injury, but whatever the reason, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Co. watched from the sidelines for the bulk of the preseason.
In recent years, teams started having joint practices at training camp. The Steelers and the Lions spent two days doing so this summer. Detroit’s ones banged heads with Pittsburgh’s ones, twos on twos, and so forth. The teams probably learned as much from those two afternoons as they did in an entire month’s worth of exhibition games.
Why can’t that replace the preseason? It should, and hopefully soon, it will.
“Preseason football is a joke, and it’s always been a joke, and everyone knows it’s a joke.”
Greg Doyle of CBS Sportsline wrote that in 2013. It was on the money then, and it’s even more true today.