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Against Deriving Meaning From The NFL Preseason

Late in the summer, the days get shorter, the crickets return for their nightly chirping in the crisper nightly air, and overanxious fans read too much into the NFL preseason.

Sometimes, the fear is justified. For example, one might see their team and say “wow, they suck,” having had years of prior experience in so witnessing. Those teams know who they are. It may also be that said team, say, sees their star quarterback or wide receiver get carted off the field before a meaningful snap has ever been played. Nothing says “we’re boned” like the anguished thumbs-up to the crowd as he enters the tunnel the week after the Hall of Fame Game.

It is human nature to get your first look at your favorite team before the September kickoff and react to what you see. If the first-team offense has a bad first quarter of preseason Week 1, and you don’t see them again until the following week, what is one to do other than glom for the next seven days onto the fact that in what little exposure you had to the core of your team, they stunk?

NFL Preseason: No Winners or Losers

The mere act of losing a few NFL preseason games in August does not constitute a failed season. These contests mean absolutely nothing except on an individual level to players trying to make the 53-man roster. Just don’t tell that to people whose teams are 0-3 or 1-2.

As for the people whose enjoyment of the NFL preseason is much greater — those whose teams are undefeated — cool your jets, folks. Expected to be a contender, the Philadelphia Eagles were 3-1 in the 2015 preseason, which looked nice and shiny compared to their mediocre 7-9 regular season. The Chicago Bears were also 3-1 in the preseason, but went 6-10 when it mattered. The Jacksonville Jaguars were a respectable 2-2 but ended up a 5-11 regular-season team.

Counterpoint: sometimes the preseason is a preview of what is to come. For example, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos both went 3-1 prior to the real games, and they met in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs went 4-0 and made the playoffs (sandwiching a rough September).

The key word is sometimes. In a four, maybe five-game stretch that mostly features players who will not get significant snaps (or any) after the final round of cuts, the win-loss records are watered down but are nevertheless magnified. The same thing happens with certain individual performances in the NFL preseason, as the first string gets limited snaps but because of the small sample size, their successes and failures are often overstated.

If you are convinced based on the preseason that your favorite team will blow, you might be right, but give it at least until the bye week before white-flagging it. On the other hand, if you see your team soaring to new heights this August, relax until they beat a good team. The season is only just beginning, and the beauty of sports is that anything can happen. (Unless you’re the Washington Generals in basketball; there’s pretty much only one possible outcome there.)

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