NFL preseason games routinely dominate anything else on TV at any given time. From a marketing/branding perspective, it matters.
But what about the games themselves? How much regular season success occurs after finishing the preseason with a winning record?
What about the players who accumulate the most stats? Does leading the NFL preseason in passing yards, for example, ever serve as a future indicator of success?
About 10 years ago when I was a fantasy football nut, I consumed NFL preseason games the way Joey Chestnut consumes hot dogs on the 4th of July.
And in a few instances, that knowledge helped me scoop a few late round draft GEMS. Mainly because I had learned a particular team’s depth chart and could handcuff guys or at least have general understanding of trends and possible outcomes.
Fast forward to now, and watching preseason is akin to watching your favorite NFL jerseys battle each other. After the starters and known players are out, the average NFL fan has no idea who the guys are that enter the game and battle for their future NFL lives.
Back to the original question – does the preseason have any impact on regular season performance? To find out, I Googled “all-time NFL preseason records.” And was amazed to find there is no comprehensive list. I even tweeted Pro Football Reference about it.
The NFL brags/advertises about all of the data/analytics powered by Amazon and other sources. Measuring Tyreek Hill’s top speed on a long gainer. Providing catch probability on difficult catches.
As the most watched thing on TV, there are stats for everything. You can seemingly find out what Vince Lombardi had for lunch in 1962.
Except all-time preseason records. I couldn’t find a site with NFL Preseason Stats so I made one. Which possibly underscores the concept that preseason games do not predict or serve any real purpose?
I dug further into my Google search, actually scanning page 2 results for the first time in recent memory. And I stumbled upon some interesting nuggets. Like this one:
Lots of chatter and content about the Baltimore Ravens and their weirdly erotic undefeated preseason streak.
But then on Google page 4 I found this PDF. It looks legit and was entitled “PRESEASON COUNTS” in all caps. The data only includes NFL seasons from 1966 to 2003. But, definintely worth a read/scan on a rainy Friday afternoon in your office.
But for the purposes of this post, heed this incoming factoid:
“Preseason success has translated to Super Bowl victories throughout NFL history. Of the 38 Super Bowl champions, 30 (78.9%) posted a preseason winning percentage of .500 or higher. Overall, the 38 Super Bowl winners have combined to post a 115-65-2 (.637) preseason record.”
It also includes this quote that could easily be attributed to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh:
“My approach to the preseason is we try to win every game we play,” says new New York Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN. “It’s much easier to teach and to learn when you’ve been in a winning situation.”
Here’s a direct quote from Coach Harbaugh a year ago (via WTOP) when the Ravens tied then NFL record of 19 consecutive preseason wins set by the 1959–62 Packers, led by the aforementioned Lombardi.
“I mean, there are going to be people that say this doesn’t mean anything, and there are going to be people who look at it and say, ‘Wow, that’s something.’ So, I think everything is something,” he said.
“I’m of the belief that everything has meaning in life. So, I guess you can take two things; nothing has meaning, and everything has meaning. So, if we’re doing it, it’s worth doing, it matters and it’s worth doing well.”
From this SI post: “Since it began in 2016, the Ravens have won at least eight games every regular season.”
I mean, that’s something, right?
Personal opinion: I think the preseason matters from the standpoint of establishing workflows and attitudes. Which ultimately get bundled under the term “Culture.” At the very least you are building patterns and habits.
Ok, so what about individual efforts. Do those have any value? For me, I’d love to spend the rest of my human existence walking around earth telling everyone I led the 2022 NFL preseason in receiving yards. Or tackles. Or ANYTHING. I’d put it in my LinkedIn headline fo show.
Check out this fantastic headline I found: Sage Rosenfels Was The Tom Brady Of The NFL Preseason
Published in 2019, it is a great deep dive of NFL preseason QB performance starting in 2000. Some tremendous names on this list – Billy Volek, Joe Webb, Josh Johnson (who started a preseason game last week), Trent Edwards. Once you read the data there is no denying that Sage WAS the TB12 of NFL preseason.
One preseason performance buried deep in my subconscious is former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. In 2010 Cruz suddenly went APE SHIT.
In four games, the undrafted rookie produced 15 receptions for 297 yards and 4 TUDS. He absolutely blew TF up on MNF against the Jets. This Bleacher Report article sums up the insanity brilliantly. From there, he won a Super Bowl and made the Pro Bowl (when it mattered).
So since we can’t find a ton of individual data, let’s use that QB list to extrapolate.
And what you will find is the greatest value of preseason player performances seem to be for fringe players who become back-ups and occasional starters. Those players can swing individual games. But you are not going to find a future NFL Hall of Famer.
The Ravens NFL-record winning streak has been extended to 22 games. The final 2022 preseason game is this Saturday against the Washington Redskins…err Commandos.
If the Ravens win, we will have another year to ponder the significance of the preseason. And for Pro Football Reference to start storing all-time preseason data.
Update: In week one of the 2023 preseason, the Ravens eked out a 20-19 win over the Eagles on Saturday to extend their NFL-record preseason win streak to 24 games.