Practice doesn't make perfect, but in NFL it surely can't hurt
Now that all the evidence is in, we need to have this conversation just one more time.
After this, I promise that you won't hear another word about it from me until next exhibition season when the debate is likely to be renewed all over again.
Does anyone believe the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers or Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers offenses (their defenses were two of the best we saw in Week 1) are as bad as they were this past weekend?
Week 1 of the NFL season every year gives us more than a few surprises, and to bury the losers or anoint the winners is always a mistake.
But the Browns looked almost exactly like the 1-15 and 0-16 teams of recent vintage, and while I think they've been badly overrated this preseason, they have too much talent to be that bad.
That quarterback Baker Mayfield saw limited preseason action -- throwing just 32 passes, none with his new receivers and backs -- and that most of the regulars saw limited to no exhibition time certainly contributed to their incredibly embarrassing performance that included 18 penalties for 182 yards.
With a new offensive coordinator and rebuilt offensive line, Atlanta's Matt Ryan got just 28 preseason pass attempts while four other QBs unlikely to ever see the field in the regular season threw 145 passes, and the Falcons racked up 9 penalties for 78 yards Sunday.
For Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, it was just 13 preseason attempts, sans Antonio Brown for the first time in nine seasons.
But it was the performances of the Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Bears' Mitch Trubisky that were the most telling.
Neither had a pass attempt in the exhibition season.
While Trubisky's performance is the most concerning, Rodgers was barely better, and we know who he is and what he will be once all the rust is off.
That each team committed 10 penalties, the Bears for 110 yards, should tell us all we need to know.
What did the New England Patriots do in the exhibition season?
Almost every one of their starters, including 42-year-old G.O.A.T. Tom Brady saw significantly more action than Trubisky and the Bears.
Whether Trubisky was rusty or is just bad remains to be seen, but to send him out there without a single passing rep at game speed was simply unfair.
Every other major team sport plays exhibition games, every one of them more than NFL teams, and the idea of not playing a pitcher, hitter, fielder, point guard, sharpshooter, goalie, forward or defenseman at least some of the time and a lot more than a couple of plays total would never even be considered.
So why do it?
Let's talk about the supposed benefit of not practicing at game speed before you play: safety and health.
On Sunday, Nick Foles, Tyreek Hill, Tevin Coleman, Malik Jackson and Devin Funchess all suffered serious injuries that will cause them to miss significant regular-season action, with only Funchess likely to miss the whole season.
If the others had suffered the same injuries in exhibition games they would have missed at least one, two or three fewer real games.
Key stars such as Mayfield, C.J. Moseley, Quinnen Williams, Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, T.J. Watt, Maurkice Pouncey and Ju Ju Smith-Schuster suffered injuries. all but Mayfield were unable to return to their games.
We don't know if any of them will miss significant time or how much, but how are any of their teams better off than if those injuries had been suffered in the exhibition season?
I am not suggesting teams and players can't play well without exhibition action. Look at Bears linebacker Khalil Mack last year and this. But the idea that a team or player can be better off in any way by not playing practice games is ludicrous.
In the case of the Bears, while it may not be the only reason they lost, the offense clearly wasn't ready.
To pretend that all the practice plays in the world have the same benefit as trying to make those plays with a herd of big angry dudes coming to take your head off is pure folly.
It isn't football if you aren't getting hit.
I can't wait to see how the Bears approach their exhibitions next August.