In the football history books, 2008 will be forever remembered as the year that killed the preseason—hopefully.
The reasoning behind the preseason, in football and in most other sports, has always been a bit lacking. The most practical reason in the NFL is that in-game experience is the only real way to evaluate rookies.
Training camps can only tell you so much because how a player performs against a practice squad is going to be a lot different from how they perform against a first-team defense. And, more or less, rookie evaluation is the main reason why owners have resisted calls from Roger Goodell to shorten the preseason and expand the regular season to 18 games. After what has been happening to teams and their key players in the last three weeks, it is difficult to say whether the owner's status-quo stand will wither.
On Monday, the New York Giants received word that Osi Umeniyora, the teams' next Michael Strahan, would have to have season-ending knee surgery because of an injury suffered against the Jets. The injury brings up serious questions about whether or not the Giants can compete in an offense-heavy NFC.
San Diego also suffered on defense, as Pro Bowl defensive back Shawn Merriman announced that he had two torn ligaments in his left knee that would require surgery. Chad Johnson, the Cincinnati Bengals' loudmouth but exceptionally talented first-slot wide receiver, partially tore a labrum in his left shoulder against the Lions that could require season-ending surgery if the shoulder pops out before it is fully rehabilitated. A Chad Johnson at half-strength is not a good sign for the Bengals, surgery or not.
And those injuries were just the big ticket items. From Baltimore to Seattle to Tampa Bay, key players have been carted off the field with toe, back, neck, knee and foot injuries.
Yet, despite the high-value players being injured, few teams have something, if anything, to show for it. Most teams with quarterback questions solved them after Week Two play. Rookie receivers like Dominik Hixon and James Hardy didn't randomly explode in Week Three; they played consistently well enough in Weeks One and Two.
For most other offensive and defensive positions, coaches are unlikely to get a sense of how good a player is playing against scrambled first and second team lines. All there seems to be left are overpriced, boring games with absolutely no significance at all. Other columnists have covered the topic of how preseason wins and losses, and even player performance, do not foretell regular season success.
Roger Goodell's oft unmentioned proposal to NFL owners calls for the preseason to be shortened to just two games with the regular season expanding to eighteen. Two more regular season games benefits the NFL, the owners and the fans in plenty of ways.
The additional revenue from meaningful games will be a boon across the board. The NFL gets more revenue to boost itself, the owners get more revenue from fans coming to the stadiums, the fans get to cheer on their team in actual games and the networks get boosted advertising dollars.
Although it may in some ways take away from the week-to-week do-or-die parity that has become the hallmark of the modern NFL, many teams and owners should appreciate not having their entire season thrown down the tubes because of a key injury late in the season. Certainly, two more games allow bottom-feeding teams to get additional shots to get into the playoffs. Who knows what last season's playoffs would have looked like if the Giants got as hot as they did two games too early (or if the Patriots stumbled in the last game of the season instead of the second playoff game).
Most of all, though, the fans are demanding more football and the NFL should give it to them. The preseason has become mostly obsolete and this year proves how harmful meaningless games can be.
To put it more simply, there is no excuse to have key defensive or offensive players down for the year because of the preseason. If the owners have an ounce of sense, they will act on Goodell's proposal after the 2008-2009 season.