August 19, 2011

The utter irrelevance of the NFL preseason.

Nothing is more irrelevant than the NFL preseason.

A bunch of Phillies fans freaked out earlier this week when Charlie Manuel's long leash led to Roy Halladay blowing a lead in the 9th inning of a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks. These folks were ridiculous; Halladay had struck out the side in the 8th inning, and he's second in Major League Baseball with seven complete games. Besides, it's only one game out of 162.

But at least they were riled up by a legitimate regular season match-up, and with playoff implications to boot. People who blow a gasket over a football team's preseason outings are considerably more absurd, and we're seeing them come out of the woodwork after the Eagles' poor showing last night in Pittsburgh.

Is it heartening to see Michael Vick flounder, to see the Steelers run wild all over Juan Castillo's defense? Not at all. But does it really, truly matter? Not in the slightest.

Preseason games are glorified scrimmages. Just because the NFL turns on the cameras, charges season ticket holders full price and ships Troy Aikman and Joe Buck out to commentate doesn't make them any more legitimate. The players hate the games, the fans are bored out of their minds, most of the coaches are just going through the motions. They're a necessary evil perpetuated by a sports conglomerate intend on wringing every dollar out of our pockets...but they mean extremely little, perhaps nothing, when it comes to your team's immediate future.

If your team looks like it stinks, that's OK. Maybe they're testing out new packages, or keeping some of the better ones under wraps until the games start to matter. Or maybe they just came off a lengthy lockout, overhauled a good portion of their defense and brought in a new coordinator who's still working out the kinks. Maybe they were playing another elite team that seems to place more of an emphasis on strong preseason play. Maybe one of their best wideouts is recovering from a health scare, and maybe the team's top two run-stopping defensive tackles didn't even touch the field. There are a hundred different variables at play here, and the only assumption I would not draw from any them is "the Eagles are suddenly not a good team."

As noted many times before, preseason record doesn't reflect regular season success. If I attended a poor Vick practice at training camp in the Lehigh Valley, I'd pay it the same mind as a poor preseason outing. There's really no difference, besides playing at a fancy stadium in another city. Now, if Vick had sucked all training camp and preseason, or if, say, the offensive line had looked gross for a month straight, that's cause for concern. But don't take anything you saw last night and extrapolate that throughout the upcoming year. That's a waste of time.

The number one goal of the preseason is to survive. Limiting injuries whenever possible is key, which is why the starters never play more than a half. If a team is lucky, they'll weed out a few valuable special teams players from the bottom of the roster. Sometimes a backup might outperform a starter and move up the depth chart. But that's about it. There's no need to compete with opposing teams, no need to try anything special. Save that shit for the regular season.

Believe nothing you see in the preseason. Enjoy the fact that real football is around the corner, but don't overreact to what's happening on the field. The Eagles may not become the team we're all hoping to see, but the time to worry about that is after Week 1, not Week -3.

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