When it comes to the preseason, it’s easy to want to overreact to what we’re seeing on the field. That’s especially the case when it comes to the Los Angeles Rams and their preseason was especially bad. While some key starters didn’t play, starters at other positions did and, most of the time, it didn’t look very impressive.
The concern obviously is whether or not that carries into the regular season and how much the preseason matters. When the Rams won the Super Bowl in 2021, they did so while not winning a preseason game. The years the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns went winless, they both went undefeated in the preseason.
Those results alone should tell you how much results matter in the preseason. However, it is still worth taking a look given how bad it was at times for the Rams.
After three games, Los Angeles finished 0-3. However, it’s their point differential of -75 that’s the most staggering. The next closest team was the Carolina Panthers at -38. The fact that the Rams had a -75 point differential is almost impressive. The last team to do that was the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019 when the finished the preseason with a -77 point differential, but that was over four games.
The NFL’s preseason standings data goes back to 1995. Since then, only five teams have finished with a point differential of -70 or worse. The 2019 Jaguars finished their season 6-10. The Indianapolis Colts did it twice with Peyton Manning in 2005 and 2010. In those years, the Colts finished 14-2 and 10-6. In 2006, Washington went 5-11 after having a point differential of -77. Lastly, the Arizona Cardinals in 1999 had a staggering -91 point differential and finished the regular season 6-10.
Between those five teams, the results are mixed. While some may see the Los Angeles as having potential to go 10-7 this season, the 2019 Jaguars feels realistic for the Rams, finishing with six or seven wins.
Pro Football Focus grades teams throughout the preseason and finishing 32nd in offense, defense, and special teams was the Rams. Los Angeles finished with an overall team grade of 48.5. It’s the worst team PFF has graded in the preseason since they began keeping track back in 2013.
Again though, how much does that matter?
The Philadelphia Eagles graded as the 31st ranked team in the preseason last year. They obviously made the Super Bowl. The year before, the Cincinnati Bengals ranked 29th and like the Eagles, they made the Super Bowl. In 2018, the Rams graded as the 31st ranked team according to PFF in the preseason and made the Super Bowl.
That’s not to say that the Rams are going to make the Super Bowl this season. However, if the question is, do these type of team ratings matter in the preseason, the answer is undoubtedly no.
Just looking at teams that finished last in Pro Football Focus’ preseason grades, the results are once again pretty mixed. Last season, the Jaguars finished as PFF’s worst team in the preseason only to go 9-8 and win a playoff game. The Jaguars are one of three teams to make the playoffs along with the 2018 Dallas Cowboys and 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2016 Cleveland Browns were by far the worst team, finishing 1-15.
On average, the 32nd ranked team in the preseason according to PFF won 6.89 games. Again, that feels pretty realistic for the Rams heading into 2023. They could certainly surpass that mark, but that number is realistic. Of course, the Rams are a bit of a unique case as they finished the 32nd ranked offense, defense, and special teams. They were the only team to accomplish that feat.
At the end of the day, the Rams likely won’t be as bad as it looked at times in the preseason. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a playoff team either. The answer there lies somewhere in the middle.
As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to overreact to the preseason when that’s the only football that we get to see prior to Week 1. The preseason is about process over results. Obviously, the Rams results weren’t great, but was there some individual improvement? Did the young roster absorb coaching points between games and apply those the following week?
The next time we see the Rams on the field will be Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. At that point, the games and grades will finally begin to matter.