Five days until the Jacksonville Jaguars take the field for the first time in the 2023 NFL season as they take on the Dallas Cowboys this upcoming Saturday, August 12, for week 1 of the NFL preseason.
Each year, avid fans tune in to catch the first on-field glimpse of the team for the upcoming season, including starters, backups, and future practice squad players. Theoretically, the purpose of the preseason is well-established: players get their feet wet playing against actual opponents, and both the roster and depth chart are established as 90 is narrowed down to 53.
However, it is hard not to adjust one’s level of optimism based on pre-season play. After all, if your team goes 4-0 in the preseason, your roster depth must be pretty high at all levels, which would bode well for the regular season, right? Conversely, if you can’t win a single preseason game because your backups can’t seem to catch a ball if it hits them right in the hands, your team certainly won’t stand up to the inevitable brutality of the 17-game season, right?
Well, not quite. To see this clearly, let’s take a look at how NFL teams’ preseason win percentage stacks up against their regular season win percentage over four of the past five years (the 2020 season is excluded, as the 2020 preseason was canceled in light of COVID).
Looking at these graphs, the lack of a strong correlation is apparent. Sure, in 2019, there appears to be a weak positive correlation between preseason and regular season win percentage, but 2022 shows a weak negative correlation. Both 2018 and 2021 show essentially no correlation whatsoever. Collectively, these data suggest the two are not closely associated.
As to why this may be, preseason is not truly a sneak peek of the regular season. Players are rested, game plans are simplified, and the atmosphere of the stadium is much less influential. To clarify, this is not to say the preseason is useless. It allows players to shake off some of the offseason rust before the regular season and allows depth players a chance to prove themselves on the field and earn a spot on the roster. It also allows other teams to catch a glimpse of players who are going to be cut but who may make another team’s active roster.
For Jags fans, it will give us a chance to see our revamped offense in game-action, including new alpha WR Calvin Ridley and star QB Trevor Lawrence as he enters his third year. However, even when the starters inevitably leave the field after one or two drives, we will get a chance to assess training camp standouts like TE Gerrit Prince and WR Kevin Austin Jr., as well as new rookies like RB Tank Bigsby or S Antonio Johnson.
So does the preseason serve a purpose? Absolutely. But does the preseason record give any insight into the regular season record? The answer is pretty simple: not really.