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.