The number of preseason NFL games has always been a major topic of debate, and in 2015 it's no different.
Especially, this time of year, when it becomes a front-burner subject, people ask questions like, "Do we really need four preseason games? What if we extend the regular season to 18 games, and cut the preseason in half? Does increasing the number of regular season games dilute the NFL product, or lead to more major injuries? Can coaches and GM's properly evaluate talent and make cuts based on only two preseason games?"
(People forget that at one time there were 6 preseason games!)
All of these are interesting and polarizing questions. I don't know what the right answer is. There are good arguments on both sides of the debate. The NFL is the greatest sporting spectacle in our country, and the league has wisely treaded carefully on this road.
The best argument to keep the status quo is the importance of evaluating personnel, especially the young players who are on the roster bubble. Without four preseason games, it's very easy to see many undrafted rookies getting overlooked. Sure, coaches get a pretty good feel for who can and can't play based on practice. However, you can't simulate games in practice no matter how hard you try. Plus, it takes multiple games for some rookies to get comfortable with the speed of the game, and to be able to play fast themselves.
The normal mental learning curve for a rookie makes live game reps a must. The more games there are, the more the strengths (and weaknesses) of a player stand out, giving the talent evaluators a larger sample size with which to make a potential life-changing, or franchise-altering decision. Here's a small list of players who weren't drafted, yet went on to have great careers:
Some on this list, like Warner (Arena Football) and Moon (CFL), had to go to other football leagues to show what they could do, but most of these undrafted players depended on the preseason – or preseasons -- to state their case to general managers and coaches.