Beginning with the featured Pro Football Hall of Fame game in early August, five weekends of exhibition games (65 games this year) are currently played in the NFL. The start of the preseason is basically tied to the last week of training camp.
Identifying how individual players perform in a real-time game setting is far more beneficial to teams than seeing how they play in training camp practices. Coaches also use the preseason to install their offensive and defensive game plans and iron out any kinks before the season gets underway.
Since the late 1970s, NFL teams have typically played four exhibition games that do not count in the standings and serve to offer an opportunity for teams to make final preparations and evaluate some of their newly signed talent.
Veteran players generally play only for about a quarter of each game (or less) in an attempt to avoid injuries; the third preseason game (or fourth for the participants in the Hall of Fame game) is generally the exception, since starters play well into the third quarter and both teams game plan for the game as if it was the regular season.
The third preseason game is usually considered to be a dress rehearsal for the first-team players and coaches often use this game as a final tweak for their starters.
All teams are permitted to carry a roster of 90 players for the entirety of the preseason. Up until this season, there was a first roster cut-down date that trimmed rosters from 90 spots to 75. Only 53 players make the team’s roster by the start of the regular season, so at least 37 of the players in camp are not going to suit up in the regular season.
The preseason games do not count toward any statistics, streaks, season standings or records whatsoever. For instance, the four wins achieved by the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns in preseason had no bearing when they went on to become the only teams to finish 0–16 in the regular season.
Additionally, the 1972 Super Bowl champions Miami Dolphins, despite losing three preseason games, are still considered to have played a perfect season (regular season 14-0; Overall 17-0). Similarly, Ola Kimrin’s 65-yard field goal for the Denver Broncos in a 2002 preseason game is not considered the league record, despite being longer than the 64-yard mark set by Matt Prater in the regular season (2013).
Since 2000, only three undefeated pre-season teams have gone on to win the Super Bowl in the same year and therefore, the performance in these exhibition games have very little bearing on the regular season.
However, American football attracts such support that droves of fans still pay full price for preseason game tickets, which they must purchase in order to keep their regular season seats. Many teams are sold out on a season ticket basis and have large waiting lists, with fans required to pay a one-time or annual fee for the privilege of remaining on the waiting list.
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