What Can The NFL Preseason Tell Us About The 2021/22 Season Matchups?

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The NFL preseason has undergone major makeovers over the decades, with half as many exhibition games now as the 1950s and ’60s, the recent outlawing of two-a-days in pads and extra siestas built into the summer calendar.

Relatively speaking, it’s more of a country club atmosphere, especially for the veterans who might not even step on the field during practice games.

And there’s a lower priority on winning exhibitions, except maybe for Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and his Ravens, who have gone a preposterous 17-0 in the preseason since 2016. Go figure.

A Sage Voice

There might not be a better person in the pro football universe to chat about all this than ex-QB/WR and former Minnesota Vikings scouting guru Jerry Reichow.

Selected by Detroit in the 1956 draft out of Iowa, he threw a TD pass in the Lions’ title-game victory the next year, and in 1960 was with the NFL champion Eagles. He joined the original Vikings in 1961 as a receiver, earning Pro Bowl recognition, and stayed with the organization until retiring after the 2019 season. That’s a 64-year pro career.

“When I first got into the league we would scrimmage almost every day, sometimes twice a day,” Reichow said not-so-wistfully in a phone interview from his Tucson home Wednesday. “Training camp went on for two months.”

That’s remarkable considering the NFL regular season was only 12 weeks long until expanding to 14 games in 1961.

“And remember, we had 33-man rosters back then so we had some people going both ways.”

He said those exhibition games weren’t taken lightly.

“We all played, even the stars (like Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne), and the rules back then didn’t protect the quarterback. You kept your eyes open. Everyone was fighting to make the team, so, oh yes, winning was important and we really played hard. 

“In today’s game, you’ll see the receivers and DBs go at it hard, but I don’t know if everyone else is doing that.”

How To Pick Winners 

With that in mind, it gets tricky attempting to make correct preseason betting choices these days when checking out online sportsbooks such as DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM

Said Reichow: “It’s changed in that teams don’t put much emphasis on winning the games like they used to. In the last game (of the summer), they don’t even want anyone out there.”

A key, of course, is to ascertain which coaches will be allowing their stars to play deeper into games, if at all, and getting to face the other team’s second-and third-teamers. And also attempt to determine which coaches are eager to show off with a winning summer record.

It was reported that LA Rams coach Sean McVay will continue his policy of not letting his most precious commodities play in the preseason. Yet his teams have gone 6-6. No edge there.

Who’s Most Motivated?

Rookie coaches and teams off miserable seasons the year before would seem to have the most motivation to treat these games more seriously, perhaps to show the fan base their team is making strides.

For instance, over the past three years of preseason play, excluding the 2020 pandemic year in which there were no exhibitions, teams that came off seasons in which they were 3-13 or worse went a collective 19-9 in practice games the next summer.

Also, teams with rookie coaches, such as Houston’s David Culley, Jacksonville’s Urban Meyer, the NY Jets’ Robert Saleh and Detroit’s mega gung-ho Dan Campbell bear watching. Especially Campbell’s Lions, who went 5-11 last season and haven’t won a title since Reichow was playing there. Tonight, they should have the adrenaline rushing more than normal playing at home against Buffalo.

And, maybe for this week, too, ex-Tennessee assistant Arthur Smith, now sideline boss with Atlanta, might want to show off Friday against his former team.

Conversely…

Teams that went 13-3 or better the year before in the regular season didn’t do too badly either in the summer, going 18-14 the past three practice seasons. 

Reichow helped explained that, referencing the expansion Vikings who lost their first eight exhibitions in 1961-62, then went 19-1-1 in their following preseason outings: “It was just a case of starting to get better talent and making it easier to win.”

But over the long haul, these victories don’t necessarily translate to a successful regular season, so beware when making futures wagers.

In 2008, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 during the exhibition season, winning by an average of 12 points a game. They then lost all 16 regular-season games by an average of 15 points an outing.

But in 2000, the New York Giants went 0-4 in the summer and still reached the Super Bowl. 

Closing Tidbit

THE EXHIBITION CURSE: Before this year, there had been 56 Hall of Fame games in NFL history, dating to 1962, not to mention three years in which no game was played. None of the 112 teams that participated went on to win that season’s NFL title.

That’s bad news for Pittsburgh and Dallas in 2021, teams that met last week in Canton. 

About the Author

Bob Christ

Bob Christ, based in New Mexico, has been a gaming writer (primarily the NFL) for almost four decades, with his work appearing in publications/websites across North America. He's a big fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Philadelphia's Eagles and Phillies, and inexplicably the NHL's Winnipeg Jets.

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