Preseason NFL football is strange. I feel nearly the exact same range of emotions for each game every year.
Game 1: Thrilled to see the team on the field again. Don’t even really care how they play. This game is a giant bucket of ice cold water in the desert.
Game 2: Less interested. Really just waiting to see what happens in Game 3 now.
Game 3: The dressed rehearsal game is probably the best overall preseason game. The starters usually play until around halftime and you really want to see some nice, crisp execution from that group before the backups head in.
Game 4: WHO CARES, WHY IS THIS STILL HAPPENING?
But what really matters in the preseason? Do wins and losses matter? I did some digging and it turns out that it doesn’t really matter much, if at all. There are plenty of anecdotes that point to this — the 0-16 Lions going 4-0 in the preseason is my favorite — but the data confirms that the correlation between preseason wins and regular season wins is virtually non-existent. In fact, this study shows that teams with a 2-2 preseason record have the highest winning percentage compared to the other possible preseason results (1-3 is the worst).
Looking at the Titans’ results over the past 10 seasons, you can see that preseason records really have no bearing on how the team performs in the regular season.
2017: 1-3, 9-7
2016: 3-1, 9-7
2015: 2-2, 3-13
2014: 2-2, 2-14
2013: 1-3, 7-9
2012: 3-1, 6-10
2011: 3-1, 9-7
2010: 2-2, 6-10
2009: 3-2*, 8-8
2008: 3-1, 13-3
*Titans played in the Hall of Fame Game in 2009.
As much as anything during the preseason, fans should be cheering for injury avoidance. I found this study from the 2017 season that plotted the number of “man-games” lost for each team versus the number of regular season wins and found it to be pretty interesting.
NFL 2017 Season injury plot: # of injuries vs # of wins. Total player quality lost is bubble size (Lost-av metric, weighting by 2016 quality of injured players) https://t.co/KbGetSeVfH pic.twitter.com/yXvdKYw9SJ— Man Games Lost NFL (@ManGamesLostNFL) January 11, 2018
Graphically, you can see that losing lots of starters significantly decreases a team’s chances of going to the playoffs. When all eleven players on the field for your team get up at the end of a play, that’s even better than a long touchdown pass in the preseason.
While wins and losses and stats may not matter, I believe execution does. You want to see players being able to go out and execute the plays that are called, especially the first team units.
Last season we saw the Titans offense struggle mightily with execution in the preseason and that carried over directly in to the regular season. The hope will be that we see a much cleaner operation this year. You want to see guys knowing their assignments and being in the right places at the right time. Minimizing penalties and ME’s (mental errors) is a sign of good execution and a team that is understanding the offensive and defensive install during camp.
While I’m excited to see what the new offense looks like in a game setting, most schemes are in their most dumbed-down, vanilla versions during preseason and I would expect that to be the case for the Titans tonight. You aren’t seeing a staff put together an opponent specific gameplan designed to beat the other team with the possible exception of Week 3. Don’t get me wrong, we will certainly see the basics of what the offense and defense will be built off of in Green Bay, but if it looks like they’re only running a few very basic plays, it’s probably because they are.
It is going to be fun to see some of the young guys trying to make the roster getting their opportunity to play. You never know when a Drew Bennett or Victor Cruz is going to show up out of nowhere and become a legitimate starter. However, the most important thing that can happen tonight and for the rest of the preseason is for the Titans to get some good, clean execution from their starters and then get them out of the game healthy. That’s a successful preseason. Anything beyond that is just gravy.