How much does the preseason determine a team’s regular season success?
The NFL is just about set for Week 1 of the 2023-24 season and with that we’re deciphering whether or not the preseason and the finals cuts are anything to go on.
The last three weeks of preseason gave us a pretty good look at the 32 NFL teams who were in a mad dash to get their players and their roster ready for Week 1 which starts in a week and a half.
53-man rosters are now good to go
As you probably know by now, final cuts for every team in the NFL were made on Tuesday, August 29th, meaning all teams now have their official 53-man rosters. Most starters played limited roles in preseason, as the last few weeks were primarily focused on giving those players who exist on the fringes a chance to show what they’re worth, and more importantly, an opportunity to secure a spot on said rosters.
Now, while one might think that preseason games are simply just dress rehearsal and as such have no bearing on the actual show, it would be a mistake to believe that they don’t matter. To be clear, winning or losing in the preseason isn’t necessarily an indicator of how far a team will go. On the other hand, where the coach is concerned, they have to get a good look at each and every one of the players, especially those who are on the cusp of making the roster i.e., these games are essential. Again, the starters are the starters, however, coaches need to have a good look at the guys who will likely be taking the field during quarters two through four and so, yes, preseason games do matter.
Preseason is no indicator of regular season success
Coaches and players alike are competitive by nature. You can’t be a professional athlete or coach without having that desire to win. So obviously they want to win every game, but it’s not the most important thing. Going undefeated in the preseason doesn’t guarantee a successful regular season. Just like a winless exhibition slate doesn’t spell a disastrous regular season, although there had never been a team that went winless in the preseason and won it all until last year’s Los Angeles Rams. Following the NFL’s move to the 16-game schedule in 1978, no team had gone 0-4 in the preseason and then went on to win the Super Bowl. Technically, that record still stands, since the LA Rams of last year went 0-3 in their exhibitions before going on to win the Super Bowl after a 17-game regular season.
Only two teams went 4-0 to Super Bowl
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also won the Super Bowl after not winning a single preseason game in the 2020 season, but that should have an asterisk next to it considering the preseason was canceled the year.
While going 4-0 in the preseason is a big accomplishment for teams like the New York Jets, who will take any sign of promise after not making the playoffs since 2010, it usually doesn’t mean much. There have only been two teams in NFL history who went undefeated in the preseason and then won the Super Bowl the following February. The 2003 New England Patriots were the first team to do it, and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks were the last team to do so. Again, The starters are the starters. As much as coaches want to see them play well from the get go, their focus is more on the the guys who play in quarters two through four.
Then you have the anomaly of the 2008 Detroit Lions, who were perfect in the preseason but the dipiction of futility once the regular season came around. They went 4-0 in their exhibitions, and went of to have a winless 0-16 season.
Ravens see winning streak ended
Since preseason was reincorporated after COVID, the schedule was cut to three exhibitions. As a result over the last two seasons, we have seen many more teams ending the preseason either winless or undefeated. Last year the Baltimore Ravens continued their preseason winning streak that dates back to 2015, however that record of 25 wins came to an end this year, after they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-20 on Sunday. As for who went through this year’s preseason without losing, that would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Commanders, and Jacksonville Jaguars.