The NFL preseason is a period before the start of the NFL regular season in which NFL teams compete in four exhibition games. These games do not count towards the teams regular season record and are used as 'warm-up' games in preparation for the NFL regular season.
The NFL preseason lasts for four weeks from the beginning of August to the beginning of September. The start of the NFL preseason coincides with the end of preseason training camp and the NFL Hall of Fame Game, which also occurs at the beginning of August before the preseason games begin.
The preseason is an opportunity for players and teams to 'warm-up', but also for an organization to see how players are performing and whether they should be on the final roster for the beginning of the regular season.
The preseason is a stint of games that each team plays before the regular season. The games are labeled as exhibition, so they do not count toward a team's record. Most teams will use these games to decide which players will make the roster and to try out new plays. Sometimes the NFL will use the preseason to test out possible rule changes.
The current format of 16 regular season and four preseason games was not implemented until 1978. Many years before this featured six or more exhibition games and they did not always coincide with the beginning of the regular season.
An NFL team may only have 53 players on the roster at one time, so the NFL preseason is a gauge as to who should be on the roster when the regular season begins. During the preseason, a team may have 90 players on the roster, but that number must be reduced to 53 by the time the regular season begins.
The preseason is a very big deal for rookies and players without big names who are trying to make an NFL roster. The preseason serves as a 'final audition' for players who are on the chopping block, or close to being cut from a team.
As well as roster management, the preseason also includes four preseason exhibition games. These games do not count towards the regular season record of the teams and are simply 'for fun'. In these games, younger players often get to take the reigns as they adapt to the NFL style of play.
The preseason games last just as long as the regular season game, but referees are often less harsh and play is a lot less serious than it would be during the regular season.
The NFL preseason is shown on TV just like the regular season counterpart, but only a few of the games, mostly near the end of the preseason. Neutral site games are also played to accommodate for NFL and football fans who do not live in the United States.
The matchup process is also slightly different. The schedule for the preseason is made so that teams that play each other in the regular season do not play each other in the preseason. Division opponents are avoided.
The NFL preseason has come under some scrutiny in the past few years. Many believe that the preseason is too long and risks players health. Many believe that the NFL should adopt the CFL preseason style, which consists of two exhibition games played over three weeks.
Proposed solutions include shortening the preseason to two games instead of four and lengthening the regular season by two games, up to 18 games. A recent proposal proposed removing the final preseason game and replacing it with a league-wide bye week.
Statistics that are accumulated during these four games do not count toward the record book, including the 65-yard field goal kicked by Ola Kimrin which would have been the longest in NFL history had it counted.
Teams have become notorious for their preseason win total being a terrible predictor for regular season success, as the only two teams to ever go 0-16 did not drop an exhibition contest. Both the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns finished the preseason 4-0, but went on to have seasons with few to no wins.
Another criticism regarding the preseason's uselessness is that it is another opportunity for players to get hurt. Injuries can seriously derail seasons and for that damage to occur before the real games are played is even more heartbreaking. Teams rarely play their starters for entire games or in every game in order to avoid getting hurt.