Why is it okay for you to be excited about the NFL preseason whilst you don’t care about preseason football (soccer for any Americans reading this, although I will point out we got there first)?
That was the question my equally sports obsessed other half asked me over dinner tonight as I mentioned wanting to write up the first pre-season game this evening, and it is as good a question to answer.
My response was two things. Firstly, each Premiership football team is guaranteed thirty-eight games in the league each season, plus various cup competitions, and for some Europe. In the NFL, your team is guaranteed sixteen games and that is it. Both seasons are marathons for their players, but in very different ways. Secondly, in the NFL the preseason counts. Not directly in terms of record, but right now the teams’ rosters are ninety strong, yet by the time the season starts in a month they will be cut to fifty-three. This is a crucial time for a lot of players, who are not just pursuing their dream of playing professional football, but who are putting their bodies on the line in a game that injures everyone, and in which you only have so long to maximise your earning potential. It is worth remembering that for all the starts and the Hall of Famers, the average NFL career is three and a half season , although according to the NFL that figure increases if you make an opening day roster. Either way, there is a reason why it is said that NFL stands for Not For Long.
So what did I learn from the Hall of Fame game? Well for starters, I remembered my notation system from last year, but you won’t really care about that.
The Steelers lost to the Vikings 3-14, but my first take away was that the Steelers look to have some good you receivers floating around their roster. Their receiver/running back Dri Archer particularly caught the eye both running from the shotgun and as a receiver, but equally rookie Shakim Phillips pulled in a lovely one handed catch on a thirty-five yard reception. However, every rep in practice is evaluated, yet alone in the game, so the two key drops that rookie Jesse James will be haunting him. Particularly as the first on fourth and one cost the Steelers a touchdown, and the second bounced out of his hands and was picked off by Brian Peters. It’s also worth remembering that the drop also cost Landry Jones a touchdown and gave him an interception, and neither of those plays were the quarterback’s fault, but he could also carry the can as his stats have been affected.
The Vikings looked good throughout the game. They moved the ball well, and what little we saw from Teddy Bridgewater was encouraging. More importantly, their o-line seemed to be holding up okay, and that was a real problem last season but it is very early. They also appeared to have some good looking young receivers, and fifth rounder Stefon Diggs will have done his chances of making the team no harm with a sixty-two yard punt return that only just failed to make the end zone. The defence is looking good too, and I trust that Mike Zimmer will continue to improve that side of the ball.
The Steelers look as if they will be a real force again on offence, but I’m not sold yet on their defensive rebuild and they were not good on that side of the ball so it will be interesting to see how they develop having moved the legendary Dick LaBeau on.
You can see why the Vikings are considered as one of the up and coming teams for this season, any division where you face Green Bay twice a year is going to be tough to make the playoffs from, but I think we’ll continue to see improvement from them.
I’m about to disappear on holiday for a week, but I’ll be watching all of my selected teams’ pre-season games plus Hard Knocks, and once I’m back home will be writing them up and heading on into the season. Who says Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year?