For the most part, I have learned to limit the importance
I place on preseason NFL games in relation to the decisions
I make regarding my fantasy teams.
Then again, that's probably too broad of a statement.
Please allow me to be more specific.
Virtually every NFL team plays four preseason games.
To me, those games represent four different viewpoints...
four varying levels of importance, with the most important
week not necessarily being the one you might think.
The pre-season openers, predictably I would assume,
hold the least importance for me. I like to observe
which player got the start when there are some anticipated
hot and heavy position battles, especially among QBs.
And I like to watch for run/pass ratios with new head
coaches. For instance, I want to get an idea if Jacksonville
coach Jack Del Rio really is going to ask his offense
to throw more frequently than did his predecessor,
Tom Coughlin. That could affect whether I select Mark
Brunell and/or Jimmy Smith, and whether I might take
a late-round flyer on someone like Byron Leftwich.
Also, I look for any players with injury concerns.
If a player in that category makes an appearance in
the first preseason game, even if it's for only a few
plays, I consider that a very good sign. On the other
hand, sitting out the preseason opener really doesn't
mean a lot. Just about any first-tier player with the
slightest discomfort gets held out of the first game.
In Week 2, positional battles begin to take shape.
Looking at the boxscores after the game to see who
got the most carries, who hauled in the most receptions...
those numbers are becoming more pertinent. I also like
to look at completion percentages for the QBs on new
teams or learning new systems, because I consider that
stat a decent gauge of the QB's comfort level.
It's with Week 2 that I start focusing on the first
half of preseason games. This is generally when First
Teams are battling one another. Many an analyst has
misinterpreted a 34-point result as being a sign of
an improved offense. That could be so, but if the first
team offense scored only 10 points while the reserves
put up the other 24 (almost certainly against reserve
defensive players), the effect is diminished.
Notice I haven't indicated anything about team success
to this point. That's because I generally don't believe
winning preseason games is important except for isolated
cases, such as a team coming off a 2-14 season establishing
some confidence or a new QB leading a late rally to
Week 3, in my opinion, is the most important week.
Why? Because very few head coaches want a positional
battle to run into the final preseason game, although
there are always some that do. The finale is the week
the coach wants to have everything in place, and see
what his team has. More about the final week of preseason
in a minute.
Week 3 often tells us exactly where a borderline player
stands. It's the week that roles are most clearly defined.
The First Team plays a little longer than during the
first two weeks, so we can get a better idea of how
well key guys are faring. While I don't put a lot of
emphasis in team results, I do put stock in how individuals
perform during the final two weeks of preseason...
especially quarterbacks. Most QBs excel or scuffle
in streaks. It stands to reason that a signal-caller
who struggles statistically in Weeks 3 and 4 of the
preseason is less likely to light it up in the regular
Week 4's primary purpose is confirming the opening
week starting assignments and deciding whether a hobbled
player is healthy enough to play when the games begin
to count. Head coaches vary widely in how they approach
the final preseason game, which is another reason I
prefer to avoid over-emphasizing their value. Some
coaches stick with their regulars for virtually the
entire game, looking to enter the regular campaign
on a winning note and build additionally on the confidence
of those starters.
Other coaches tend to be more conservative in Week
4 than in the previous weeks to avoid key injuries.
Many times, a decent player who lost a positional battle
in a close race will get the bulk of the playing time
in the final preseason game. So be aware of that during
your analysis. If, for instance, Ahman Green starts
and gets five carries for the Packers before Lamar
Smith enters and eventually finishes with 20 rushes,
it darn well doesn't mean that Smith has supplanted
Green as the starter, nor does it even suggest that
Smith will get any kind of regular duty. It does confirm,
however, than an injury to Green would likely result
in a full workload for Smith.
Have fun with the preseason games. But take the resulting
numbers with the proverbial grain of salt... because
you're never completely sure how they'll translate
into the games that matter.