As the owners of the NFL lobby for an 18-game season, thereby eliminating two preseason games, the question has once again emerged: Does preseason really matter? Detractors say no; preseason games are ugly, sloppy, increase the risk of injury, don’t mean a thing and should be eliminated from the game forever. I would agree with half of that sentiment. The games are ugly and sloppy, and injuries do happen. But the games are meaningful in a variety of ways.
Several years ago, we wanted to determine, once and for all, whether preseason records were indicative of regular season records. If you did well during the preseason, were you more likely to do well during the regular season?
We started the data set at 1995 when the Glazers purchased the team. What we found was a moderate correlation between the Bucs preseason performance and regular season performance.
Now, the data shows a moderate correlation (correlation coefficient of .51 for you stat nerds), meaning it’s not the end all, be all. Going 1-3 in the preseason doesn’t automatically doom your season. But, it’s not meaningless either – the preseason carries more weight than often suggested.
As fans, we can learn a lot about the team based on the preseason. As we’ve discovered with the offensive line this year, the preseason reveals where the team is deficient. This can be a double-edged sword because as fans we start to panic before the regular season even kicks off. But at the very least, you’re not surprised when the regular season rolls around.
You also get a gauge for the coaching staff. Do they want to win above anything else? How hard are they trying? How do they interact with the players? How do they react in a game? With as much coaching turnover as the Bucs have had over the years, this can be valuable when a new coaching regime takes over.
Likewise, the preseason also gives you a feel for the players, old and new. Almost every preseason, we find a diamond in the rough who may not get the fanfare of a franchise player like Mike Evans, but make an impact nonetheless. Rakeem Nuñez-Roches and Jordan Whitehead in particular have made a splash this preseason. On the other hand, the rookies who garnered a lot of attention in training camp have yet to show up during the games.
This is another benefit of the preseason – every year, a few training camp warriors emerge who outshine everyone else. But once they actually hit the field and play against a non-Buccaneer opponent, they fail to show up. The speed of the NFL is unlike anything these guys have ever experienced, so it’s no wonder some easily get lost. Without the preseason, however, we wouldn’t be able to weed these players out until they were already on the roster.
On top of all of that, the most valuable part of preseason is what it does to the fanbases around the league. We’re all on a level playing field. It’s any given Sunday, and fans around the league have yet to be let down by their team. Everyone’s excited for real, actual football. The coaching staffs, while keeping most of their playbooks close to the chest, give us little morsels of what’s to come. This preseason, we’ve gotten a little taste of what a Todd Bowles defense can do and It. Is. Exciting. I cannot wait to see that defense in full effect Week 1 against the 49ers. But until then, I’ll settle for preseason.