Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next guy about the Tennessee Titans preseason opener Thursday against the Washington Redskins. I can’t wait to see Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and company take the field in Nashville, even if they only play a quarter or less. But regardless of the result, I’m going to have to take the Titans’ performance with a grain of salt.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that preseason success is not a predictor of regular season wins and losses. Just look at the New England Patriots. The prime example of long-term NFL success, the Pats have notched double-digit wins in each of the last 10 seasons. But of the 40 preseason games during that span, New England has only won 19—or 47.5 percent.
The Detroit Lions, on the other hand, won all four of their preseason games in 2008, outscoring their opponents 80-32. However, once the regular season rolled around, Detroit completed the league’s only imperfect season since the dawn of the 16-game schedule, as they did not win a single game all year.
So if preseason games don’t determine how good teams really are and the starters hardly have enough time to get meaningful reps, what are they good for? Preseason skeptics and NFL conspiracy theorists say the games are nothing but a pocket-padding ploy by owners to sell extra tickets. But I can count 31 reasons these exhibition games are vital, and they’re all found at the bottom of the depth chart.
Many of the 31 roster spots behind the 22 offensive and defensive starters are up for grabs as the Titans’ coaching staff and front office prepares to cut the team down to a 53-man roster by August 31. The battle for those spots—as well as the position battles for starting center, defensive tackle, middle linebacker, cornerback, and return man—will intensify come Thursday. And nothing will give the Titans’ decision-makers an idea of who to keep and who to cut quite like some inter-squad competition.
So do yourself a favor. Don’t turn the TV off when Ryan Fitzpatrick, Shonn Greene and Taylor Thompson take the field. Don’t even change the channel when Rusty Smith takes over. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of the Titans roster. Familiarize yourself with the bench players and young prospects. A win over the Redskins Thursday night might not spell success for Tennessee this year, but it might provide a glimpse into the future of some of the young, talented players hidden deep in the Titans’ depth chart.
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