Paul Kuharsky: The NFL Preseason Is Watered Down Beer But People Keep Drinking It

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“Football is back,” everyone gushed Thursday night. “The first points of the NFL season,” Mike Tirico said after Daniel Carlson hit a 55-yard field goal, without a mention that it’s the NFL preseason.

“Nothing beats football on the screen,” tweeted Michael Lombardi, who was an executive with four NFL teams. “Nothing.”

Sorry Mike, I’m a big fan of your work, but I’m never going to stop campaigning for us to differentiate football. There’s a difference from when winning matters and the starters play to what we saw when the Raiders beat the Jaguars 27-11 in Canton, Ohio — which is the most meaningless of 49 meaningless preseason games.

Technically it’s football, sure. There was a kickoff and downs and officials blowing a call right out of the gate and everything.

But please can we stop celebrating the NFL preseason in this fashion?

Austin Walter of the Las Vegas Raiders is tackled by Wyatt Ray and Grant Morgan of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

All it does is license the NFL to charge real ticket prices and real concession prices and real parking prices for matchups like Jarrett Stidham against Jake Luton.

Then, we wait to see if Melissa Stark talks to Derek Carr and Trevor Lawrence about the issues of the day and what Las Vegas and Jacksonville will actually look like when, you know, football of consequence stars on Sept. 8

Sure, some spots will be won and some decisions will be made as a result of preseason games. But these games are less important than they’ve ever been. Less important, in many cases, than joint practices held all over the country for a couple days before these games. 

Fewer starters will play in them than ever before, which means more guys who won’t ever play in the league will populate second halves. Last year, the league was finally able to flip one NFL preseason game into a regular season one.

“The Raiders offense looks just fine,” Tirico told us after a Vegas touchdown early in the second quarter. Fine without Carr, Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. 

At least five of the 11 Jaguars who will be on field with the starting defense on September 11 in Houston weren’t out there while the Raiders were looking fine, but we quickly get to a place where we forget that and think it’s all real. 

And while I am not forecasting big things for Jacksonville, when it opens the season it will have a game plan and an actual scheme designed to slow the Texans, right?

I love football. But I’m not in the column where I crave it so much that this weak dosage somehow medicates me and makes me feel like I am back on the stuff.

It actually makes me miss it a bit more, because it’s so close. The players are out there and coaches are in headsets. They could so easily put the good players on the field and test out some stuff.

I understand why they don’t.

Kyle Sloter of the Jacksonville Jaguars is sacked by Kendal Vickers and Gerri Green of the Las Vegas Raiders (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

But I’m guessing you don’t like watered down cocktails or beer, so I am confused as to why diluted football has such a hold on you.

We saw Travon Walker, the No. 1 pick. That was nice. It was well short of a holiday.

Are you big on JV games (if your son is not playing in them)? I’m a varsity guy. I’ll catch a bit of the JV, enough to know that Josh Jacobs started at running back for the Raiders in a really bad sign for him.

The TV numbers for big NFL games; the playoffs and the Super Bowl serve as the best evidence of the power of the league. But what about the anticipation and excitement for the Hall of Fame game, where the top objective of both teams is to get no one hurt?

America’s appetite for bad NFL preseason games is pretty impressive too.

“Let’s just state the obvious,” Cris Collinsworth said with 11:00 on the clock in the second quarter and Vegas up a whopping 13-0. “The Raiders look pretty good!”

And with that, it was time to fish the remote out of the cushions and see what else was on.

Written by Paul Kuharsky

Paul Kuharsky is an award-winning writer who has covered the NFL for over 22 years in California, Texas, and Tennessee, and also is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After ESPN, PK came to join the longest running trio in Nashville Sports Talk in 2012.


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  1. Yes it wasn’t the super bowl, a clinching game, a regular season game. But it does feel a whole lot better than having to hear another week of the only football news of another contract or some guy getting arrested.

    Soccer has friendlies and baseball has spring training. If the NCAA football wanted to make the cupcake games more like this to have more compelling games every weekend instead of fillers, I’d be ok with that.

    NFL and NCAA football are such superior products even in preseason form to anything in the marketplace right now. Unless we’re moving the start of college football up, preseason football is a good appetizer to the 30 oz rib-eye of the regular season

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