We, as football fans, have a time of the year that is known as Purgatory, or the off-season. That dreaded time of year where absolutely no NFL games are played, from the day after Super Bowl Sunday, to the Hall of Fame game in August. Sure, we have the Draft, Free Agency, and minicamp/training camp, but that does nothing except make the longing for the return of the NFL even worse.
When the NFL kicks off for preseason, it’s like a long-lost friend returning from overseas. We, as fans, are excited beyond words, even though the games are just ‘practice’. Our beloved sport is back, and we’re in for another 24 weeks of pigskin. However, should a team lose in the preseason, we hear cries of ‘it’s just preseason!’, and that it ‘doesn’t matter’. I agree, to a point. Your team lost to backups and rookies. It doesn’t count, in the grand scheme of the NFL. However, the preseason DOES matter, and I’m here to tell you why.
Backups vs Backups
My favorite response from people when I make a crack about their team in the preseason is ‘We had our backups in.’. While this may seem like a valid argument, your backups are actually playing other backups, therefore nullifying your point. The reason preseason exists is not only to knock the rust off, but also to see how your second and third strings will perform should your starters fail or, god forbid, go down with an injury. Therefore, it stands to reason that if your backups can’t beat the other teams backups, then you’re not in good shape, should injuries come to pass.
Rosters and Depth
Many people fail to realize that an NFL roster has just 53 spots, while teams heading into the preseason have about 90 players on the roster. The four preseason games allow the front office to see whether their draft picks are worthy of a second string spot, or if they will sit on the practice squad for a year. They allow us to see a complete picture of the team that we will be cheering for during the season. They also allow the clear-cut frontrunners for the roster to develop chemistry and connections, which is very important, especially if a player has just arrived at the team via free agency.
It’s just as important for fans to ramp up for the regular season. Whether it’s a long-time NFL fan that has waited the entire off-season to see his/her squad in uniform again, or if it’s somebody that is new to the sport and wants to firm up their grasp before diving in with the veteran fans, the preseason allows the fan bases to ‘catch up’, as it were, and get back to form. Non-football fans may not understand it, but being a die-hard football fan is a way of life, with rituals, superstitions, and quirks to go along with it. Preseason allows us as fans to get back to what we love.
When a team has a losing season, or even a losing streak, it’s not uncommon for the coaches to be switched up. This means that they have to get used to a new playbook, and the players have to get used to a new playcaller. The preseason is the only way that they can both learn at game speed. Training camp does wonders, but you can only do so much against your own players. Eventually, you need to face a different scheme. (Caveat: Most teams don’t scheme for the opponent in the preseason, but it doesn’t make this any less valid.)
Ask any fan, any REAL fan, and they will tell you that the transition to the NFL from college does not always turn out well for the rookies, whether they are first round picks, or undrafted (looking at you, Matt Elam and Marlon Brown). Training camp will show you, to a point, what your draft picks are all about, but, as seems to be the trend, the true test comes from game situations. Sometimes, even, the rookies will shine in preseason games, but fail miserably when it comes to regular season games.
The End of it All
Many people have cried over the years that the preseason needs to be shortened, if not completely gotten rid of. I’m not inclined to agree. Whether it’s a guy fighting for a roster spot, an injured vet that needs a couple more weeks to be fully healthy, or a new coach that needs to grasp his new scheme, the preseason is an important part of the NFL process, for fans, players, and coaches. Besides, at the end of it all, do you really want to wait another 5 weeks before you get to see your team on the field?