They may not “count” but they sure as heck matter. A lot. For a plethora of reasons, really.
That’s my common refrain when people ask me about preseason games, which begin in earnest this week for every NFL team other than the Cowboys and Steelers, who kicked off the action last week in the Hall of Fame game.
First, you’ve got the reality show that is 40+ guys on each roster fighting to keep their dream of being a professional football player alive. That’s the scenario in these games for many of these young men, so accomplished as football players that they made it on to an NFL training camp roster in the first place.
Think about that for a second. How many guys from your high school have ever played Division I football? How many have ever gotten signed by an NFL team? Exactly.
Yet these guys, most of whom were all-state in high school and started multiple years for Division I college programs, are now playing in half-empty stadiums in a game in which the final score doesn’t matter with their very livelihoods at stake. It’s a real-life reality show playing out before our very eyes every single game.
Frankly, it’s the primary reason the Hard Knocks series has been so successful over the years.
And I know from experience how intense these games are for those guys. I’d say five of my seven years in the league I was one of those guys competing for a roster spot. Training camp practices matter but nothing is a bigger part of the evaluation for bubble guys than the preseason games themselves.
Maybe those human-interest stories don’t really matter to you. While you can appreciate what these players are going through, you don’t really know any of them or care whether or not their dreams come true.
That’s fine, I guess. A little weird if you ask me, but I can appreciate it. But what about your team? You care about your favorite team and what kind of season they are going to have, right? Well the performances in the preseason go a long way towards determining not only who makes the bottom of the roster but who secures certain valuable roles for the season.
In two of my seven years, I was battling for a starting spot and the preseason games were a major determining factor in who won the job. There are usually at least one or two competitions for starting jobs unfolding during the preseason games. Even the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom I call their preseason games as color analyst, have battles going on at both left tackle and Rodney McLeod’s safety spot until he is healthy and able to return to action.
If you don’t care about starting jobs on your team that’s even stranger but again, I understand. I have friends like that. They really just want to watch the Eagles and cheer them on in games that count during the regular season.
That’s perfectly fine just do me and everybody else a favor and don’t call yourself the “biggest XXXX fan” ever or a “die-hard” fan because you’re not. That may sound harsh, but it really isn’t. We all have lives and jobs and other things going on, but the truth is there are fans, a lot of fans, that watch every second of their teams’ preseason games because they care about every single roster spot and realize the importance of those jobs later on in the season in the games that count.
Let’s just use those same Eagles as an example since that’s whose preseason games I call. Two years ago in 2019, the last time preseason games were played, the primary skill guys the Eagles used in those games were guys like wide receiver Greg Ward and running back Boston Scott, among others.
Fast forward to December of that year, when an injury-riddled Eagles squad won four straight games to win the NFC East and earn a home playoff game. Guess which skill guys made big play after big play during that winning streak?
Yep, Greg Ward and Boston Scott. And, for that matter, Josh Perkins and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, but I digress.
Point is, even if the guys getting most of the playing time in the preseason don’t end up becoming stars or even starters the nature of the NFL is such that at least a couple of them will likely be contributing in December if your team is going to make the playoffs.
Then there’s the fantasy implications. Don’t you want to see which rookie skill guys look like they got it and can be big-time players in year one and which ones, well, don’t? I know I do.
Plus, you can see how incumbent coaching staffs use their new players and how new coaching staffs use the incumbent players.
There’s a ton of value in the preseason games, you really just have to know what to be looking for.