While the Eagles certainly learned a few things from the 24-21 loss to the Jets – like Jalen Hurts learning that some people will take any opportunity to make their presence felt – it’s fair to say that fans are at best divided on the utility of such games.
How beneficial can they really be?
They certainly don’t seem to offer much of a guide to the quality of NFL teams or any hints for people betting on sports, as was shown by the Jets winning one. (Yes, that’s a cheap shot, but less so than the one Quincy Williams delivered to Hurts).
Miami Dolphins fans will point to their preseason opener in which they beat Tampa, but few potential starters played and prospective star corner Trill Williams suffered what appears to be a season-ending ACL injury. While a player can easily get injured putting the trash out during offseason, can anyone say that the Dolphins gained more from winning against a Brady-less Bucs than they lost when Williams was helped off the field?
Although the Eagles have a shorter preseason than some teams, having opted for just three games, do they even need to play that many? All of the above questions are worth addressing, because they address some specific concerns that will become more important when the season kicks off just a few weeks from now.
What do preseason games tell us?
There isn’t a uniform way to go about playing preseason games, as the above points indicate. Philly went with Jalen Hurts under center for the game against the Jets, but there was never really a question of Tom Brady taking to the field for Tampa when they faced Miami, who themselves gave a full game to third-string QB Skylar Thompson, who may not even make their 53-man roster. So the main potential benefit of a preseason game – the chance to ease players back in and run the rule over new players – is cut off at the knees by many teams not really taking that chance.
Is it worth the injury risk?
Chris Spielman was a 10-year veteran preparing for the 1997 season when he suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit in a preseason game that left him paralysed on the field for several minutes. Although he would return to the field later that season, he required spinal surgery and was never the same player, and retired early in 1999 after suffering another neck injury. A career-shortening injury is tragic whenever it happens, but when it is sustained during a game with nothing at stake, it’s all the harder for a player or a fan to digest.
Could they be replaced with something more useful?
Joint practices are becoming more and more common in the NFL, with teams taking the chance to try their hands in semi-competitive scratch games without the pads and minus the hits. It’s arguable that this tells us little about how they’ll fare under the lights in a regular season game, but it is also worth asking whether that’s much different from preseason games as they currently are. Few people are arguing for these games to be done away with altogether, but maybe capping them at two per team would be a smarter way to go. Then, they would be more concentrated and teams might actually learn something from them.