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A reminder that preseason records don’t matter, but preseason performance might

Don’t focus on the record, but do focus on how the team is actually performing.

NFL: Preseason-New York Jets at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As the Falcons roll into Thursday night to play and potentially lose to Washington, it’s an excellent time to take a deep breath and remember what really matters about preseason.

This matters because the Falcons are on a pretty phenomenal run of preseason futility. If you count the Hall of Fame Game, the Falcons have dropped their last 11 straight, the kind of streak that would see Dan Quinn fired out of a cannon and into the sun if it happened ni the regular season. Faced with that streak, you get takes ranging from “preseason literally could not matter less, you odious cretins” to “preseason is a harbinger of things to come and Dan Quinn is doomed, you loathsome morons.” It’s a very civil discussion, usually!

The simple truth is that preseason records do no matter, but how the team performs in preseason shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It can be a sign of the quality of depth the team has managed to assemble, and when things go south like they did in 2018 with the injuries we saw, that depth suddenly matters a lot.

Here’s a brief chart that re-affirms that preseason record has absolutely no bearing on regular season performance, which you already knew but can still be a little soothing as the Falcons embark on a quest to go 0-12 over their last three preseasons. As you’ll note, the Falcons have gone 0-4 four times since 2010 and have been a playoff team twice and a losing team twice, and they’ve only exceeded .500 once in that span.

Falcons Preseason & Regular Season Records

Year Preseason Season Playoffs?
Year Preseason Season Playoffs?
2018 0-4 7-9 No
2017 0-4 10-6 Yes
2016 3-1 11-5 Yes
2015 2-2 8-8 No
2014 2-2 6-10 No
2013 0-4 4-12 No
2012 1-3 13-3 Yes
2011 0-4 10-6 Yes
2010 2-2 13-3 Yes

While record doesn’t matter, as of last year I am no longer going to say that performance does not matter. That’s a distinction I was blind to a year ago when the Falcons weren’t just racking up preseason losses but getting utterly blown out in them again and again, a stark contrast to their 0-4 2017 campaign when they were competitive in every single one. I reasoned that the Falcons weren’t going to have to rely on their depth that much—and the difficulty of predicting a raft of major injuries doesn’t entirely let me off the hook there—and that preseason wasn’t a great indicator of how that depth would fare in first place. As it turns out, the Falcons’ depth was notably worse in several spots in 2018, and that wound up costing the team dearly.

That’s the encouraging note thus far: While the Falcons have been cheerfully losing as per usual, they’ve been in these games, and the reserves on defense in particular have been downright impressive at times. That tracks with the moves the Falcons made, which aren’t universally impressive but have added interesting depth along the lines and in the secondary that simply didn’t exist a year ago. So long as the wheels don’t come off entirely in the next two weeks between injuries and poor performances from players the Falcons figure to count on, 0-4 won’t really be all that bad.