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This is an update to an article originally posted in 2014. Since that time, the Packers' three preseasons have fit right in line with the premise of the original article. It also should get us excited for the season since the 1-0 Packers are already on their way to a successful preseason.

 

“Winning doesn’t matter. It’s only preseason.”

We’ve all heard it. Heck, we’ve all said it. In August, words like these are a common way for sportswriters, television pundits, and anxious fans to reel in enthusiasm for wins, explain away poor performances, or just be plain lazy. No one takes the preseason seriously, but should they?

 

I took a look at every Packers preseason record since 1978. I started there because it was the first year when the 4-game preseason/16-game regular season schedule was established. It also gives us a decent-sized sample of 39 seasons to work with. To produce a meaningful sample, I also combined the undefeated and winless preseason teams with the next closest groups. Does the preseason matter? Let’s find out.

 

When the Packers win 3 or more preseason games…

The Packers have won 3 or more preseason games 13 times since 1978. The results were as follows: Presason_3_Wins.png

When Green Bay wins 3 or more preseason games, it usually means we’re in store for a fun season.

 

The Packers have gone undefeated in the preseason 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 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.

 

Green Bay has won 3 preseason games 11 times in the last 39 years. Seven of those 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 truly bad season and they were the only team on this list not to at least be in playoff contention on the season’s final Sunday. Overall, when the Packers win 3 or more preseason games, they average 10.6 regular season wins and make the playoffs 69% of the time. These teams also average 0.92 playoff wins per season. So not only does 3 wins usually mean playoffs, it usually means advancing in the playoffs.

 

When the Packers win 2 preseason games…
Presason_2_Wins.png
*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 quality team. 8 of the 12 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 Packers team with a 2-win preseason can expect to win 9.4 regular season games and have a 67% chance of reaching the playoffs. These teams combined to win an average of 0.83 playoff games per season (though nearly half of the wins come from the 2010 Super Bowl Championship team. By removing that group, the average drops to 0.5 wins per season).

 

When the Packers win 1 or fewer preseason games… Presason_1_Win.png

The Packers have won 1 or fewer preseason games 14 times since 1978. Unfortunately, the lack of preseason success has typically been a precursor for things to come when the real games start. The teams of the past that mustered one or fewer preseason victories usually couldn’t produce many regular season victories either. Only 5 of the 14 teams in this bunch produced winning records. Only 3 of those were able to make the playoffs. Those were among the weakest Green Bay teams to ever reach the playoffs, producing just one playoff win combined. While not a death sentence, the average 0 or 1 win preseason leads to a regular season campaign that contains a mere 7.2 wins and just a 23% chance of reaching the playoffs.

 

Preseason_Graph.png

 

Preseason_Chart.png

 

What about the rest of the league… Believe it or not, the rest of the league follows a similar trend. I did a similar study about the entire league since 1978 two years ago. If you just want a quick recent summary, nearly 80% of playoff teams since 2002 had non-losing records in the preseason (39 of 180). Chances are if you are talented enough to make the playoffs, your reserves are talented enough to at least squeak out a couple of preseason wins. 

 

So what does this all mean?
In the end, this data doesn’t assure anything for the 2017 Packers. Preseason success does not guarantee a successful season, but it historically has correlated to regular season success. My theory is that preseason wins are a reflection of the overall talent level of your team. As we’ve seen in recent years, injuries are a bigger part of the game than ever. 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 relative quality of your team. So in the end, the preseason game results matter…at least a little bit. But make no mistake, this is likely only true if you play the preseason normally. You can't Steve Spurrier your way to success by playing your starters the whole game to crush their backups. But if your backups can win consistently, it often means good things.

 

Eric Drews
Host
Green and Gold Forever
@GreenGold4Ever

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