The Fraud that is Preseason Football

The NFL is perpetuating a fraud against its fans.

It’s called the NFL preseason.

Today, I’m not going to rail about the insanity of charging regular season prices for preseason games. That issue has been hacked to death.

No, today, I want to talk about the way many in the media, particularly those in broadcast networks with game rights are trying to convince fans that the preseason means something.

You’ll hear lip service paid to the idea ‘it’s just preseason’, but then the rest of the analysis is bent on trying to convince the viewer that what they are watching will have some kind of effect on the regular season.

For the most part, Colts fans should know instinctively that preseason football is meaningless, but I’ve detected angst from normally reliable sources.  Let me put everyone’s mind at ease:


While a handful of observations about specific players may or may not have any utility as we try and project the regular season, one thing is certain: the outcome of games doesn’t matter.

At all. On any level.

I’m not the first person to do this kind of study, but it bears repeating. There is no connection between winning in the preseason and winning in the regular season. In fact, there’s a slight inverse correlation.


Preseason Records Correlated Against Regular Season Records in the NFL

Year Correlation
2008 -0.13
2009 0.05
2010 -0.07
2008-2010 -0.11

Correlations that low are not strong. They are essentially meaningless, random noise. Even so, what little correlation there is between winning in the preseason and winning in the regular season is actually negative. In other words, a good preseason might actually be a BAD sign for a team.

Since 2008, the best preseason record belongs to the Lions (10-2). The worst? Indianapolis at 2-11.

The best regular season record? Indianapolis (36-12). The Lions are the worst at 8-40.

Of the top 7 preseason records since 2008, three of them belong to the worst teams in football over that same stretch (Detroit, Saint Louis, Seattle). Another team, San Fransisco is also under .500 in that stretch.

It’s no wonder that Steve Spagnuolo perhaps chided the Colts for not playing hard in the preseason. Winning in the preseason is what he does best. His Rams are 6-2 in the preseason. Too bad they’ve gone 8-26 under him in the regular season

In 2008, 9 teams won at least 3 games in the preseason. 5 had winning records in the regular season. 4 did not. The Lions won all four preseason games and then promptly lost all 16 regular season games.

In 2009, 13 teams won 3 games. 7 had winning records in the regular season. Four teams went undefeated. Two finished under .500 on the year, and the third, Baltimore, won 9 games and slid into the playoffs. One of the three 0-4 teams (Arizona) went to the playoffs.

In 2010, 10 teams won at least 3 preseason games, including the 49ers who went undefeated. Only two of the 10 had winning records in the regular season. The two winless teams were the Colts and Bears, both of whom won their divisions.

Preseason results are beyond meaningless. They aren’t just meaningless in the sense of, “Well, we know you can overcome a tough preseason, but it’s really better to do well!” kind of way.

Preseason results are meaningless in the kind of way that might actually mislead fans and analysts from accurately assessing teams.

Bring your kids to the Dome on Friday night. Buy some cheap tickets for $5 bucks (DON’T YOU DARE PAY FACE VALUE!!!). Have fun. Leave at half time. Don’t worry about the final score or how the team looks. You are watching a glorified scrimmage. The coaches have their own agendas. They are putting players in odd situations to give them experience or training. There’s evaluation that goes on, but mostly they are looking for effort and discipline. The coaches know if a guy is working against a first stringer or just lighting up a guy who will be unemployed in a week. What looks like gold to fans is often just a mirage.

If the Colts come out injury free and show discipline with a lack of penalties, then it was good night.

The final score is 100% completely totally and in all ways irrelevant.