The third weekend of the preseason is hyped as the week we all get a great glimpse of what teams will really look like when the regular season rolls around. The starters are supposed to play at least a half of the game and possibly the first series of the third quarter. Do yourself a big favor, though: Don't read too much into the final score.
Settling roster spots and position battles take precedence over wins and losses this time of year. For example, Oakland continues its quarterback rotation and this week Daunte Culpepper gets the start after Josh McCown started the first game and Andrew Walter went first last week. Every coach likes to win, but there is very little research to support the idea that preseason football is a time to "teach" winning. The numbers say something quite different, in fact. I'm sure the fans in Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and Dallas are excited by the 2-0 start and the possibility of a 4-0 preseason record, but don't make those Super Bowl plans just yet; an undefeated preseason does not equate to a successful regular season.
Last year was a perfect case in point. Not one division winner had a winning record in the preseason.
If you go back and look at the division winners over the last three years, it's clear that winning in preseason isn't very significant. There have been 24 division winners in three years and the number of those teams that had a winning record in the preseason: 4.
Lets take it a step further and look at the significance of an undefeated preseason. Carolina, Cincinnati and the New York Giants all posted 4-0 preseason records last summer, leading to heightened expectations from fans and media alike. Lots of people proclaimed the Panthers were headed to the Super Bowl, the Bengals could outscore any team in the NFL and the Giants were building a dynasty. All three teams finished 8-8.
Since 2003, nine teams wrapped up the August schedule 4-0 and only four of them produced winning record in the fall.
The Colts have won four straight AFC South titles and, of course, are the reigning world champions. Their preseason record during that four-year run is 5-12. In other words, nobody should be alarmed that they are 0-2 right now. The Eagles have won the NFC East three of the last four years; during those championship seasons, they managed to deliver a combined 4-9 summer record. The Panthers have gone undefeated in the preseason in three of the last four years. A perfect 12-0 and only once in those three years (2003) did it translate into a division title. The only year they didn't go undefeated in the dress rehearsal season was 2005 when they finished at 2-2. And they made the playoffs that year as a wild card.
I'm not trying to rain on the parade of those teams on their way to a winning preseason. But when I hear people say that young coach got his first win the other night or "he teaches his team how to win" or "that kind of effort is going to change the culture in the locker room," I must send up the yellow caution flag. I was with the Jets one year when we went 5-0 in the preseason and a few months later we were all looking around wondering how we went 6-10 during the real season.
Enjoy the third weekend of preseason football but don't draw any conclusions about the regular season from what you see on the scoreboard. Did the Saints' 1-3 record last summer leave anyone thinking they would be the story of the year in the NFL?