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“It’s only preseason.”

We’ve all heard it. Heck, we’ve all said it. During August, this phrase is the most common way for sportswriters, television pundits, and anxious fans to either reel in enthusiasm for wins or explain away poor performances.  No one takes the preseason seriously, but should they?

I took a look at the Packers preseason history since 1978. I started there because it was the first year when the 4-game preseason/16-game regular season was established. It also gives us a decent sized sample of 36 seasons to work with. Does the preseason matter? Let’s find out.


When the Packers win all 4 of their preseason games…

The Packers have won all of their preseason games just twice since 1978. In 1997, as the defending Super Bowl Champions, Green Bay won all 5 of their preseason games. That season ended with a 13-3 record and a return trip to the Super Bowl. Two years later in 1999, new head coach Ray Rhodes led the team to a 4-0 August campaign. This team was far less successful, as the team finished just 8-8. Two seasons is not enough to draw any conclusions on, but it is worth noting that both of these teams were playoff contenders with non-losing seasons.


When the Packers win 3 preseason games…

During the years studied, Green Bay has won 3 preseason games 9 times. And that usually means we’re in store for a fun season.








As you can see, winning 3 preseason games almost always leads to regular season success. 6 of the 9 teams in this set went on to the playoffs. Two others just barely missed the playoffs (1981 by one game, 1989 by a tiebreaker). Only the 1979 Packers had a losing record. Overall, when the Packers win 3 preseason games, they average 10.45 regular season wins and make the playoffs 67% of the time.


When the Packers win 2 preseason games…

The Packers have won 2 preseason games 11 times since 1978. The results were as follows:

 *Season Shortened to 9 games due to players strike


While winning just half your games is not optimal in the regular season, winning 2 of four games in a small preseason window seems to still be a good indication that you have a strong team. 7 of the 11 Packer teams that won 2 preseason games made the playoffs. Except for the outlier seasons in 1991 and 2005, a .500 preseason mark typically has meant good things. Historically, a 2-2 preseason Packer team can expect to win 9.26 regular season games and have a 64% chance of reaching the playoffs.



When the Packers win 1 preseason game…

Winning just 1 preseason game has been the most common occurrence for Green Bay since 1978. Unfortunately, the lack of preseason success has typically been a precursor for things to come when the real games start:


The Packer teams of the past that mustered only one preseason victory usually couldn't produce many regular season victories either.  5 of the 12 one-win teams produced winning records. Only 3 of those were able to make the playoffs. And just one of those teams got out of the first round. While not a death sentence, the average 1 win preseason leads to a regular season campaign that contains a mere 7.42 wins and a 75% chance of missing the playoffs.



When the Packers win 0 preseason games…

Like the undefeated preseason, the winless preseason has been a rarity in Packers history, occurring just twice. A 0-4-1 campaign in 1980 led to a 5-10-1 regular season. The 1987 Packers followed their 0-4 preseason with a 5-9-1 regular season (and two of those wins were provided by replacement players during another players strike). Therefore, a winless preseason leads to bad seasons with some weird looking records. Clearly.




What about the rest of the league…

I’ll be honest; I did not break down each of the other NFL teams in the same way to see if there are similar trends. Even with the modern internet to use as research, the preseason games are difficult to find information on. But I did find this last statistical nugget: since 2002, just 21% of playoff teams had losing records in the preseason (30 of 144). Chances are, if you are good enough to make the playoffs, you’re good enough to at least squeak out a couple of preseason wins.



So what does this all mean?

In the end, this data probably means a whole lot of nothing for the 2014 Packers. I don’t think going out and trying to win preseason games will lead to a successful season. I am saying, however, that success in the preseason does seem to correlate to regular season success. I am guessing that preseason wins are a reflection of the overall talent level of your team. When your backups and role players can consistently outperform their counterparts on other teams, you likely have a strong roster across the board that can be called on to effectively fill holes during the season without greatly dropping the quality of your team. So in the end, the preseason might matter a little bit. But don’t worry too much. If your favorite team doesn’t win any games this preseason, don’t panic…but don’t purchase those playoff tickets quite yet either.




















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