Every NFL fan watches preseason games — to a certain extent, if only to see how the season will shape up. The more avid fan watches them all (or as many as they can). Certain teams’ fans watch their favorites but little else. And there are the few that will barely watch NFL preseason games because they believe the games mean little or nothing in the overall scheme of things. But do they? Do the games and the accumulated records/standings really mean anything?
Everyone understands that NFL preseason football is basically practice runs for the teams to test new players, new offensive and defensive formation schemes, and gear up for the upcoming season. The games help coaches weed out the great from the almost great and the good from the almost as good. The almost as good players usually go home or re-enter the free agent market. The teams assimilate, downsize, and streamline from the beginning of training camp to the end of preseason, hoping to put together the team that will go all the way to the Super Bowl and take home the Lombardy Trophy.
But that doesn’t actually answer the question of whether or not NFL preseason football actually means anything. For fans of teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, the only two teams who have posted perfect preseason records after three-quarters of the games have been played, the season might look far more promising than last year. But the Baltimore Ravens were expected to perform far better than they did last year and they’re ranked in the Top 10 in most preseason power rankings for the 2010 season.
As for the San Francisco 49ers, they seemed strong last season but lost some tough challenges that hurt them in the overall standings by season’s end. Head Coach Mike Singletary may have put together the team to get to the Super Bowl this year, but he may also have a team that plays .500 ball or pulls a 2009 Denver Broncos — win many early, lose many late, go nowhere.
But what about the Indianapolis Colts? They have yet to win a preseason game. Are they that bad or havet they gone through such a sea change of personnel that they look to do poorly in the 2010 season? Doubtful. They’re ranked #1in many NFL preseason power rankings. Oddsmakers are looking for the Colts to get back to the Super Bowl.
So do the NFL preseason games mean anything? The games provide coaches with the means to separate the great players from the not-so-great, the good from the not-so-good. The games enable coaches to downsize and streamline their rosters, hone the plays and players that they hope will push their teams through a 16-game regular season schedule to get to the playoffs and, ultimately, the next Super Bowl.
In the end, the preseason games will close, the numbers will wind back to zero, and all teams will be equal until the season openers. The San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts will have the same chance to reach the Super Bowl. Thirty other teams will have the same chance. Not one of those teams will worry about the win-loss records that came before the first games of the season. Neither will the fans.
Because the games don’t count – except to coaches, the players, and the possibilities…