Preseason Game 1: Can we really learn anything?

Everyone is excited about preseason football right?  Right?!!

Well,  much like Ryan Leaf’s passes (or mood swings) I’m sure the answer to that question is all over the place when it comes to individual enthusiasm over football played in August.   As a football fan, and a fantasy football junkie- even I have a hard time getting up for week 1 of the preseason.   Out of all the emotions I feel – the strongest is usually a desire to watch my favorite team – and then cross my fingers every time someone gets off the turf slowly.  It’s not exactly a joyful occasion.

From a “real life” perspective the game provides key info to coaches who already have to have their scenarios for the final 53 in their minds.  For the players who see time,  it’s a chance to make the opening impression that may secure a role.  And for the fans it’s the release of final getting to see football-or a football-like product after months of waiting and re-watching old games on the web.

But in truth,  starters normally don’t play a lot in week 1.  Many of your older players are “rested” for the week,  and many banged up guys from practice are held out as “precautionary”.   Rookies and depth players are often terribly rusty which can present an inaccurate view of the type of players they will be during the season-and team’s playbooks are usually massively scaled back this early in the preseason so the role of any player may not even be fully in view.

So let me posit an unpopular viewpoint for some fantasy enthusiasts and probably an unexpected one from someone maintaining a ffl blog:  being engaged with Preseason Week 1 football is not very important to your 2013 fantasy football success.

If you’re playing fantasy football in a redraft league – week 1 of the fantasy preseason doesn’t offer a whole lot to you.  You can probably just check your favorite NFL injury website the next day to see if anyone went down and may not be getting up any time soon.

If you’re in a dynasty league or a keeper league week 1 probably doesn’t hold that much value either.   Sure you may have your eye on a hot rookie,  or a position battle but in these cases this is just act 1 (or round 1) of a cumulative story (or fight) and there are a lot of practices between now and the end of most of these competitions.

I’m not advocating the skipping of any preseason football you want to watch – hell I’m the type of junkie that heads over to team websites in order to watch 1-on-1 blocking drills with guys in shoulder pads and shorts.   I’m just saying that if you’re an out of market fan trying to get a game on a Chinese website feed- and will stay with all sorts of choppy feeds and live message board threads to talk about player 89 and 90 on the roster in the final 4 mins of a 38-14 Week 1 preseason game…make sure you’re doing it out of a love for the game, and not a compulsion to try and get the drop on someone in fantasy football. 

You know how the players always say that if you’re going to add games to the regular season – cut the preseason down to 2 games?  That’s because they know that while 4 is a nice number for coaches and management to feel more comfortable about their tough roster decisions,  in the end – impact players can be determined by practice and a few games of preseason.   Games 2 and Games 3 are traditionally more important for football: real and fantasy alike.

Game 3 I think even the more casual fans recognize in today’s NFL is the important one.  It’s often referred to as the “dress rehearsal” where starters try to play even if they have some minor health concerns, and coaches put more of the playbook and leave the starters out there about a half to implement it.   A lot of position battles are effectively won (or lost) by the time game 3’s whistle blows.

But Game 2 is important and a little underrated  – by entering game 2 you can see how players react to the 1st real “game week” of practice spanning one night under the lights to the next.  Players have had feedback of their prior performance and will be expected to build upon momentum, or to right techniques that went wrong in week 1.  It’s a key building step in a player’s development and may even determine who gets the 1st crack at impressing in Week 3’s dress rehearsal.

For fantasy purposes it’s only a subset of players for whom Week 1 is important.  This set includes anyone not assured a starting roster spot.  And out of this set, most of them will need the cumulative account of all their preseason play to indicate whether they are say healthy enough, have learned enough, have won a position battle etc….coaches don’t make final decisions off of game 1 very often and so neither should you.

I’m against reading a lot into preseason games as a whole (it’s patently offensive that as an NFL season ticket holder they charge me full price for preseason games) – I think teams probably learn more about guys in their day to day practices,  and out of what you can learn in preseason only game 4 is worth less than the 1st one.

So, watch because you miss seeing your favorite team out there….watch because you want to see a draft pick in his uniform number, watch because you just have missed the game.   But relax on forming opinions on players tonight and through the weekend, if you’re drafting soon pump the breaks on that 4th rounder that has a nice 4th quarter drive, if a player goes down – check the news for the next few days before crossing him off any draftboards.  Like the 1st chapter of a novel or the 1st note of a symphony – take notice and breathe it in with anticipation…but don’t rush toward the ending.

Enjoy it.   All in all whatever happens in week 1 – it’s better than the Probowl.

– Mike









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