Is the Third NFL Preseason Game Meaningful?

Phil Simms

Phil Simms (photo via

The 2016 National Football League season is upon us. Tonight, the Denver Broncos will face off against the Carolina Panthers, the team they vanquished in Super Bowl 50. And I, for one, can’t wait for kickoff.

Sure, watching the first three seasons of “Agents of Shield” this summer was quite exciting, as was my war on wasps (for those keeping score, the wasps won… handily), but nothing can quite fill the void left by the NFL’s hiatus. I admit that, sometimes during the offseason, I watch reruns of  Thursday Night Football games featuring Phil Simms just to hear the inane banter that I blame for my drinking problem on game days.

I know some people get (overly) excited by the NFL Draft and watch all the preseason games like they’re a paid scout — 99.9 percent aren’t, but hearing them use words like “3-technique” and “wingspan” is always good for a chuckle or two — but I’m not that guy.

To me, the NFL preseason holds all the appeal of a virtual date.

However, I’ve heard that the third preseason game is crucial to a team’s regular season success and I was determined to find out if this is true. So, I scoured the NFL record books, concentrating on the last 10 years, and discovered some tantalizing tidbits.

Third Preseason Game Stats

Score one for hearsay.

Since 2006, teams that won their third preseason game averaged 8.38 wins during the regular season and made the playoffs an astounding 45.4 percent of the time. On the other hand, teams that did not win their third preseason game averaged 7.58 regular season triumphs and competed in the postseason just 29.4 percent of the time.

I also found that the margin of victory or defeat matters: Teams that won their third preseason tilt by two touchdowns or more averaged nearly nine regular season wins and 58.3 percent of them made the playoffs.

Won Third Preseason Game

Likewise, teams that lost their third preseason contest by two touchdowns or more greatly underperformed once the “real” games began.

Lost Third Preseason Game

All this would seem to bode well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, but not so well for the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

2016 NFL Preseason Scores

Now, granted, the analysis presented herein is hardly thorough. For more accuracy, I probably should have looked at all the preseason games and maybe even broken up the third game by halves or at least considered how long the majority of each team’s starters played.

But, alas, I have neither the time nor the patience to conduct such a study (I spend the bulk of my days practicing my 3-technique in preparation for the morning scrum at Starbucks). However, those looking for more in-depth analysis should ask Phil Simms… he won’t know the answer, but he’ll pretend that he does.

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