NFL Handicapping: Don't Put Too Much Stock in Preseason
by Trevor Whenham - 9/4/2012
NFL Preseason records are notoriously hard to trust. Every year we see good teams that don’t care about their preseason performance, and we also see bad teams that shine in August. During the heyday of the Manning Colts, the team was notoriously weak in the preseason but managed to move on and dominate the regular season consistently. The reason for that was simple — neither Manning nor Tony Dungy seemed to care even slightly about the scoreboard until September rolled around. By contrast, in 2008 when the Lions compiled the only 0-16 season in league history they were the only undefeated team in the preseason.
When you look at the standings at the end of the preseason this year there are some records that make sense and others that really don’t. Here are eight records that stand out as particularly misleading heading into the games that count.
Washington Redskins (3-1)
Only two teams had a better preseason record than the Redskins. If you honestly believe that only two teams are better than the Redskins then I have some real estate to sell you. Robert Griffin III has the chance to be a special player, but he is going to really struggle this year. There is a real lack of depth and talent on both sides of the ball, and it will take a few years for the team to assemble the talent it needs. If this team were even in the realm of .500 at season end it would be a miracle, so this record is far from representative.
Green Bay Packers (2-2)
The Packers were the best team in the NFC last year until their playoff stumble. They have the tools to be the best team in the NFC again, and they are favored by many to win the Super Bowl. In their preseason action they looked flat and unfocused, but when a team is as talented and established as this one they don’t need to worry about performing up to their potential.
Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
Atlanta is almost a forgotten team. They don’t get the attention of the truly elite squads, but they have a chance to be very special this year — especially if Matt Ryan and Julio Jones can see their already strong relationship blossom. They have a chance to win the NFC, and almost no chance of performing at the underwhelming record they did in August.
Seattle Seahawks (4-0)
Pete Carroll has been in Seattle long enough that he should finally make a step forward. He had a decent offseason as well. While there are reasons to be optimistic, believing in this record would be far too optimistic. They are starting a talented and exciting rookie, but he’s still a rookie who came into the fall with no expectations of winning the QB derby. Can this team be solid, and even compete with the Niners for the NFC West title? Sure. Will they continue to be the best team in the NFC? No way.
New England Patriots (1-3)
I don’t know about you, but when I look at the AFC I don’t see a lot of top-end strength. You can make good arguments for the Texans or the Ravens, but in my eyes the Patriots are head and shoulders above everyone else — even if they don’t have their receiving corps fully established yet. Tom Brady is such an established superstar at this point that all he wanted to do in the preseason was knock off the rust. Beyond that the priority at QB was deciding whether Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett was the answer at backup. Determining that was more important than winning, so 1-3 is a totally meaningless record.
Buffalo Bills (0-4)
It’s as if the AFC East decided to boycott the preseason. The Patriots were the only team in the division to record a win. Miami’s struggles are probably indicative, and while the Jets are better than a winless squad they aren’t very good in my eyes. That leaves Buffalo, and I don’t think that the team is anywhere close to a winless team. They were making big changes on defense as they implement a newly-purchased pass rush and adjusted schemes, so the fact that they weren’t yet consistent is no surprise. They are moving in the right direction, and they will not continue to struggle now that the games matter.
Indianapolis Colts (2-2)
I am a big Andrew Luck fan. How can you say you like football and not be? He stands a good chance of being Rookie of the Year, and he will do things that will amaze even his biggest fans several times this year. He has a real shortage of talent around him, though, and some of his best teammates are also raw rookies. This team just is not going to finish at .500, so this record is optimistic.
Kansas City Chiefs (1-3)
Last year the Chiefs came into the season with reasonably high expectations but were derailed by some truly epic bad luck with injuries. This year they are healthier, they have made some good changes on the field and in management, and they are prime candidates to rebound and be contender in the wide-open AFC West. Their preseason didn’t start like they hope their season will, but nothing that happened was frightening enough to write them off for a second straight year.
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