The NFL off-season is a long process. We’ve had a free agency period, a weird period where draft picks spend like gold in the trade market, a combine and a draft. After all of that, there are months of anticipation and a handful of practices. All of that comes to an end with the preseason.
Unfortunately, the months since actually getting to enjoy football can make even the most rational fan a little crazed. What makes things worse is that preseason football looks enough like the real thing that these crazed football fans can forget exactly what they are looking at. Some fans are a little too ready, and when they see the game they are ready to go into full Super Bowl mode. If you are feeling this kind of heavy football withdrawal you may want to look over these friendly reminders before sitting and watching your favorite team this preseason.
The final score doesn’t matter- This is the hardest fact for most to remember during the preseason. It defies traditional sports logic but it really is true. These games are not contests between two teams. The true competition is within the position groups. Players are fighting for their spot on the team. For the vast majority of these games, the only similarity to the team on the field to what the team will look like in the regular season is the uniforms. The sad truth is, despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding these games, the score at halftime is probably more important than the final score.
Before you decide to proclaim your team champions of the next Super Bowl or give up on the season all together after the first preseason game, take a deep breath. Please remember that after the first regular season game of the year these games will already be a distant memory. If you don’t believe that ask the fans of the winless 2008 Detroit Lions or the 2017 Cleveland Browns if either of their perfect records in the preseason those years were meaningful. So remember that you won’t even remember these games in a few short weeks.
Have hope that was the last drive for the starters- The preseason is a tease. I don’t care how awesome your team’s off-season was, you don’t want them on the field. The sooner their night is done the better. The obvious reason for that is avoiding injury. Losing a crucial player in any game is an awful pill to have to swallow, losing them in a glorified exhibition is tragic. However, beyond the obvious comes the fact that these players still need some repetitions to ensure they are ready for the real games in September. If your starters are getting off the field in a timely manner in these games that means that your coach is happy with the work they are putting in. While seeing those backups enter the game usually comes accompanied with some moans and groans, know that in the grand scheme of things that is the best sight possible in the preseason.
Don’t fall in love with anyone who plays in the second half- There have been many heroes that have emerged from the second half of preseason games. Unfortunately, once this point in the game is reached, most of the marquee talent is on the sideline with their pads off. The guys playing these downs are the guys who carried those pads through most of Training Camp. While occasionally a few of the final roster spots have been determined by performances in the preseason games, most of these positions are usually determined in practice.
When a player that you have never heard of suddenly makes a huge play in the late moments of a preseason game, don’t assume that suddenly your team has found the latest diamond in the rough. Coaches realize that plays made in these situations are many times the result of overly aggressive defensive play-calling and a weaker opposition. So if some random receiver’s six catches and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter for your team know that his lack of ability to make special teams tackles might still cost him a spot on the final roster.
Pay attention to who is playing when- If a zealous fan really wants to gain something from watching a preseason game, they will have to pay attention to the details of the game. Preseason does give a pretty good indication on where players stand with a coach. If there is a player who was a projected starter who suddenly is seeing all of his time with the backup squad, that’s a pretty good indication that he has lost his spot. A savvy fan can begin to give an educated speculation on who is on the coaches good side and the players who may have played their way out the door.
Don’t overreact to starters sitting out- While injuries are always a scare it’s important to remember that if a starter will sit out a preseason game for almost anything. So if your favorite player is sitting out one of these games, know that it might be a coach’s decision after he had a nasty hangnail. So there is no use for a fan to panic unless that player still isn’t available the first week of the regular season.
With those rules in mind, hopefully, no matter how excited you are for the season to get rolling you will remember to watch these games the right way. That way when your team’s fourth-string defense blows the game you won’t already be replacing a television. You will already know that just because those guys are dressed like your team, it doesn’t mean they will be on your team.