Do Preseason Records Matter?
Preseason football is back; in fact, I have it on in the background as I write this. While it’s a welcome sight, it begs the question: do preseason records actually mean anything? Or is its only value to help coaches decide who gets the last few roster spots? After all, the starters hardly play, the teams keep their offensive schemes extremely vanilla, largely play out of their base defenses, and try above all to make sure no one important picks up an injury. To try to determine if preseason success has any impact on the regular season, I looked up teams who had winning preseason records and then checked what their regular season record for the corresponding season was.
First up was the Seattle Seahawks. In both 2012 and 2013, the Seahawks had a perfect preseason record. In 2012, they went 11-5 and reached the divisional round of the playoffs. In 2013, they went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl. Clearly preseason success indicates regular season success, right? Not so fast. In 2009, they went 4-0 in the preseason and won all of 5 games in the regular season. In 2010, they went 1-3 in preseason, and 7-9 in the regular season, winning the atrocious NFC West. Take away? Inconclusive.
From here, we have the Washington Redskins. They had a perfect preseason in 2013, 2-14 in the regular season. In 2014, 3-1 preseason, 4-12 regular season. In 2011, it was 3-1 in the preseason, and a whopping 5 wins during the regular season. Conclusion? A good preseason means nothing in Washington.
Perhaps my favorite example is the 2008 Detroit Lions. A perfect 4-0 in the preseason. This was the team that featured Dan Orlovsky running out of the back of his own end zone for a safety en route to a gag inducing 0-16 season. The following season, they went 3-1 in the preseason and 2-14 in the regular season. The year after that it was 3-1 on their way to 6-10. They went 4-0 in 2011 and managed a 10-6 season with a playoff berth. Conclusion? For every 4 good preseasons the Lions have, they might get 1 good regular season out of it.
The lesson here is that playing well or playing poorly in the preseason most likely has very little effect on how a team performs in the regular season. Often times preseason wins go to whichever team leaves their starters in the longest, which are generally teams that haven’t performed well in recent years or who have a lot of roster questions. So, while you should by all means enjoy the glorious return of football, you shouldn’t get too excited if your favorite team does well in the preseason.