Pre-Season NFL Football: Necessary But Meaningless


In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the NFL pre-season.

At four games in length (five if you play in the Hall of Fame game) it’s maybe one game too long, but at lot better than six game march-to-boredom that existed back when there was just a 14 game regular season.

Pre-season games are necessary.

New players need some live reps. Rookies need to “flash” or “show something” to make the team. Coaches need a few dress rehearsals to get used to getting plays called on time, substitutions to be executed properly. The complex dance of a pro football game and it’s myriad of moving parts needs the oiled and exercised so that the regular season doesn’t start like a complete train wreck.

Yet, at the same time, pre-season games are meaningless.


This is true, despite¬†attempts by¬†us in the “chattering class” try to insist otherwise.

There’s only one thing that means anything in pre-season football: “Did any of your important players get hurt?”

No? Good. “Shower up boys, we’ll see you at practice after the off day.”

Necessary, but meaningless.

Prime example from Monday night’s Redskins-Browns game. I’m on the phone with a buddy as the Redskins smash Alfred Morris into the line of scrimmage FOUR straight times from the 1 yard line.

Goal line stand. My buddy says: “What kind of idiotic play calling was THAT?”

I said: “It was perfect. Why in the hell would we want to put any of our GOOD goal-line plays on tape for other teams to see in the PRE-SEASON.”

My buddy admitted: “good point.” Do you know how hard it is to get a “good point” admission from a friend when it comes to arguing about football?

Now, maybe Jay Gruden was NOT trying to “play it vanilla” in that case and IS IN FACT an idiot play-caller. I tend to doubt it. The point is, we DON’T KNOW what teams are doing in pre-season games. We don’t know how much of the playbook is actually active and prepared.

We know teams do not at all “game plan” in the pre-season. And that’s a huge part of preparing for your next opponent.

We know that the “tempo” of the game in August, is a VISUALLY noticeable notch below what it will look like in September and beyond.

We know that star players – especially the 4-5 guys who will directly influence the outcome of games when they matter – only play 1/2 to at most 1/2 of any game.

We know that 46% of NFL games are decided by 7 points or less. Which means it takes 60 minutes of action, involving some 120+ plays from scrimmage, plus special teams, penalties, and a big heaping of dumb turnover luck to decide the outcome of most games.

So only idiots would extrapolate any meaning from a pre-season game under the above mentioned restrictions and limitations.

Yet, we do.

I guess it’s still better than talking about baseball.

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Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at


  1. Let’s not forget my preseason. Accurately time the drive to the stadium, securing the best route to whatever new parking I’ve purchased. Figure out the time to seats at walking speed of my 6 year old (should be accurate for more crowded reg season games without the 6 year old). Become re-acquainted with the food stands and beer offerings. Walk around with the kids and actually check out the stadium and do some shopping for gear. Check out this year’s cheerleader squad and pick favorites for each group that is in front of my seats each quarter. Look around me for any possible new seat owners that could be super annoying. All of this without the pressure of screwing up a “real” game. It’s like my preseason/dress rehearsal as well. Still not worth the cost, buy better than getting screwed with dynamic pricing on a choice meaningful Sunday Night Game later in the season.

  2. Czabe, Czabe …… no need to remind thos of us who listen to DC sports radio just how little you know, or like to talk about, baseball.

  3. One thing that can be learned for the failed goal line attempts is they probably can’t straight up blow people off the line and need to factor that into their designed plays. If football was smart, the next time they raise prices, they jigger it so the the preseason tickets end up being about half price as the regular season games. It would look better from a PR standpoint.

  4. My biggest beef is the marketing and capitalism of preseason. I could care less about them playing games. I do care that sports media outlets dwell so much on what is basically dress rehearsal that provides nothing to casual fans. Interestingly, while preseason baseball is also televised, it seems to be treated far more casually in its marketing approach (little stadiums, cheap tickets, not too much hustle, practice unis, etc).

  5. Yeah Lewy, god forbid that those horrible capitalist snakes give people what they want and make a profit at the same time! I think that the sports media is way, way more rational about the NFL preseason than the average fan. Nearly all the sports media I consume treats the NFL preseason as exactly what it is: warmups and tryouts for 3rd stringers. But all the fans I know take it almost as seriously as the regular season… if you don’t think fans take it seriously look at the amount of money that is bet on preseason NFL – it is almost as much as the regular season.

    The demand for NFL is huge, much larger than the supply. The NFL can’t expand the number of games played, and probably can’t field any more expansion teams, so the only avenue they have to expand supply to meet the demand is to expand the coverage on the existing institutions of the NFL – the draft and the preseason. Hard Knocks has capitalized training camp, and I wouldn’t be suprised if the media starts doing massive coverage of the combine and the pro days of top potential picks (if the league/players allow it).

    I myself am not a huge NFL fan, but I like it enough that I watch old games during the offseason. I like it enough that I watch Hard Knocks and preseason games. I like it enough to study playbooks, stats, and defensive schemes in the offseason. I like it enough that I pay attention to the draft. And the bottom line is that there are like 90 million other men and women like me (who like it quite a bit all the way to total fanatics) who will essentially buy most any product the NFL puts our way.


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