Is there value in NFL Preseason games?

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 29: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Marken Michel (80) makes a catch during the Preseason National Football League game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets on August 29, 2019 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles will take on the New York Jets on Friday night in the 2022 preseason opener at Lincoln Financial Field. NFL preseason games will inevitably be interpreted as a harbinger of things to come during the regular season.

When fans and media are hungry for football after a long summer, they will react to preseason games with polarizing opinions and occasionally get carried away with headstrong takes.

Does NFL preseason actually matter? Yes and no.

Preseason games don’t provide an accurate overall outlook for a particular team entering the regular season, but they provide fringe roster players with the opportunity to prove their own ability to make an impact on their future in the NFL.

Two instances in recent Eagles history paint a clear picture. 

Sam Bradford Sets Expectations for Excellence in 2015

Chip Kelly became the talk of the NFL during the 2015 offseason. He seized control of player personnel from Howie Roseman and made a series of moves that remade the roster in the image of his own philosophy.

The move to replace Nick Foles with Sam Bradford, the swap of LeSean McCoy for former Oregon star Kiko Alonso, the acquisitions of Demarco Murray and Byron Maxwell, and the abrupt departures of Evan Mathis and Brandon Boykin were among the aggressive moves part of Kelly’s attempt to jolt the team into a higher tier than their 10-6 efforts in 2013 and 2014.

ACL injuries ended Bradford’s 2013 and 2014 seasons, but he made his debut at the Linc in the second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens in August 2015. A presumed cheap shot by Terrell Suggs quickly initiated the new quarterback into Philadelphia. Fans and media rushed to his defense as part of their loyal and protective nature. 

The hysteria set high expectations for the third preseason game, the “dress rehearsal” at historic Lambeau Field on Aug. 29 against the Green Bay Packers.

Bradford came in hot with three touchdown drives on three possessions. He finished 10/10 with 121 yards and three touchdowns just a hair shy of a perfect passer rating. Reserve tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton caught touchdown passes.

Walter Thurmond picked off Brett Hundley and scored on a 28-yard return to make the score even more lopsided. The Eagles held a 25-0 lead after a first quarter that swung many of Kelly’s skeptics back in his favor. Local media placed too much emphasis on a strong preseason showing.

The city of Philadelphia predictably acted on its incredible passion and set higher expectations for the 2015 season. They soon experienced a letdown.

The Eagles opened the season with a road loss to the Atlanta Falcons. They followed with one of the most embarrassing offensive efforts in franchise history in Week 2 in their home opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Bradford threw two interceptions in both games.

The former first-overall pick finished his only season in midnight green with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and an 86.6 passer rating. Celek and Burton combined for 30 catches in an offense that was supposed to utilize tight ends innovatively. The Eagles finished 7-9 in one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles, two running backs with established track records of NFL success, struggled to find space in Kelly’s lauded offensive system. They both finished the season with an average of under four yards per carry (YPC). 

NFL Preseason Matters A Lot

Preseason games matter because fringe roster players fight their way to become one of the 53 men that represent an NFL franchise during the regular season, not because veterans need to provide precursors of what kind of seasons they will have.

Virtually every player on an NFL roster makes an impact on game days in a league with only 17 regular-season games. Teams must make tough decisions to decide on the best 48 players who play the most important roles on offense, defense, and special teams. The “game of inches” cliche comes up in football conversations for a reason. If a fringe roster player eliminates an inch of space from an opponent on special teams, he justifies his spot on the roster.

Corey Clement signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2017 after a prolific career at the University of Wisconsin.

A roster with veterans like Sproles, LaGarrette Blount, and Wendell Smallwood and rookie fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey didn’t have much space for a rookie hot shot with a flashy training camp. The buzz surrounding Eagles’ preseason belittled Clement’s attempts to scratch and claw his way into the NFL, but an injury to Smallwood conveniently allowed the South Jersey native to earn a roster spot.

Clement became a solid contributor for a 13-3 team with 496 all-purpose yards during the regular season. His real impact came in Super Bowl LII when he caught four passes for 100 yards and took a very consequential direct snap that changed the course of Eagles history.

If Pumphrey earned a roster spot over Clement, would the Eagles still be searching for their first Lombardi Trophy?

NFL Preseason in 2022

The fact that preseason games make up 15% of the league’s schedule doesn’t exactly help temper reactions during the month of August. Season ticket holders pay an equal amount for preseason matchups to watch a clearly inferior product.

The refresher of game reps for NFL veterans and the battle for roster spots among the bubble players will provide the best topics of conversation for the next month of NFL football.

Passionate football fans will naturally judge their teams based on any action they see. When the Eagles take on the Jets on Friday, intense reactions will fly around like there’s no tomorrow.