Football is finally here! We have been through our first week of pre-season games, with another round of games on tap for this weekend. Fans have gotten their first looks at their favorite teams. Some teams have new coaches. Some have new star players. Some have some exciting new rookies. One team even has a quarterback who has been in camp all of TWO days and yet is starting tomorrow night!
While the popular opinion is to disregard the pre-season and add extra games to the regular season, I believe that the NFL needs pre-season games to make the regular season a stronger product.
First and foremost, I think rookies need the pre-season to get acclimated to the speed of the NFL. For example, rookie Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford showed enough poise and pocket awareness in Detroit’s first game that there is talk that if he continues to improve the next three games, he may win the Lions quarterback competition (which I highlighted in a previous debate). In addition, how are fantasy football players supposed to evaluate rookies if they do not see them in games?
Second, players are more likely to get injured if they play more games in the regular season. Extra games accumulate over time, and quite possibly shorten the careers of many players. It is easy to say that people get injured in pre-season games, but, they do. Look at the facts. The majority of starters played only a couple of possessions last week. They will play a little more this week, and even more the week after that. But in the fourth game, they will not play much, if at all. Add up all their playing time over the four games and they might play six quarters. That is significantly less than adding extra games to the schedule. The wear and tear will affect the players, maybe in the short term and maybe in the long run. If a team makes a Super Bowl run, the guys on that team are playing significantly more “intense” minutes. That is going to wear on a body. Playing extra games at an intense level definitely increases the injury possibility when compared to playing pre-season games that sometimes are not played at full speed with the best eleven from each side on the field at the same time.
Third, I think teams need the pre-season in order to get acclimated to the styles of the new coaches they are playing for. Yes, I know “football is football,” but there are different styles. Nine teams have new head coaches (eleven counting the Oakland Raiders with head coach and alleged jaw breaker Tom Cable having the interim label removed, and then also Mike Singletary with the San Francisco 49ers). Seven of those (Raheem Morris, Jim Caldwell, Steve Spagnuolo, Rex Ryan, Jim Schwartz, Todd Haley, and Josh McDaniels) are first time head coaches in the NFL. Players need to get used to the coaches, and conversely, the coaches need to get used to the players. This does not even include all the new members on each coaching staff. There is a transition period and the pre-season is a way to ease that transition.
I know that season ticket holders like Bleacher Fan are frustrated that they have to pay full price to see a pre-season game. Like it or not, the NFL pre-season is necessary!