Preseason wins do matter

Aug 10, 2004 4:51 AM

Handicappers and bettors should pay attention to the NFL preseason results. They can be very helpful in predicting how certain teams will do in the regular season.

We find that preseason won-lost records have a bearing on how a team performs for real. If you want proof, look no further than this column last year (GamingToday, Sept. 9) when two top teams we mentioned as "looking good" for the coming season based on preseason results were New England and Carolina.

Our data sample covers the seasons from 1997 to 2003 (a seven-year span). We begin by tracking all teams based on how total preseason wins.

First some explanations: "AW" reflects the average wins during the regular season, "AC" represents the difference (average change) in regular season wins this year compared to last year, and the three "wins" categories show the number of teams reaching certain win levels.

The pattern is more preseason wins equals greater regular season wins on average. Preseason results do seem to matter. Teams with three or more preseason victories are markedly better than teams with fewer wins. Those that go winless in preseason are facing trouble in the regular season.

Another way to make our case is to show that teams having won three or more games go on to win more than 10 in the regular season 46 percent of the time. Only 13 percent (2-for-15) of winless teams in the exhibition season posted double digit victories.

The next logical progression is breaking down teams according to prior season performance. This is done using our traditional "G-A-P" criteria. Good teams get 10+ wins, average ones 7-9 and poor less than seven.

Good prior-year teams win at least two games less the next season (the "nowhere to go but down" syndrome). However, if notching a couple of preseason wins, they are in reasonable shape for another strong regular season effort.

Prior season average teams that post three or more preseason wins have averaged 9.4 wins and hit the magic 10 win mark 48 percent of the time. If below three preseason wins, the average dips to 7.2 regular season victories and only 23 percent exceed 10 victories.

At the same time, three or more preseason win teams had bad regular seasons only 16 percent of the time. Fewer preseason wins results in a tough year 46 percent of the time.

There’s only modest evidence that poor teams with good preseason records stand a better shot of being competitive in the regular season. What leads to the big turnaround for the sadsacks of the previous season is a subject deserving of its own article.

When the preseason concludes we’ll give an update on which teams to study based on this research. For early warning, you’ll want to watch especially closely how the 7-9 win prior season teams are faring.