The games don't count. That makes the pain from major preseason injuries even more, well, painful.Yet NFL teams go through weeks of training camp in the intense heat of summer, then play four exhibition matches â five if you are chosen for the Hall of Fame game.
Despite new rules resulting from the 2011 labor agreement that curtail the number and intensity of practices, key players such as Packers star receiver Jordy Nelson don't make it to the real season.
It's a delicate balancing act for everyone: players, coaches, trainers, even owners.
Is it too much?
"I don't know if it changes the mindset," says Falcons coach Dan Quinn, whose team hasn't lost any significant performers for the season.
"That's always at the forefront of our thinking. You know in this profession, it's part of the game, but it still (stinks). It's a bummer for (Nelson) and his team."
More than a bummer, it could be a season changer. Few receivers are as important to their teams as Nelson is to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay.
"It's difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game," Rodgers said.
And there are two more "meaningless" games ahead for all 32 teams. This week's matchups are the ones when the starters get the most action â and are subject to the most risk. Even that could change; some coaches are considering reducing the time their elite players are used this week.
"That's where the challenge is for a coach," says Quinn, in his first season in charge after running Seattle's superb defense. "From how do you get the readiness you need to play at your best to wishing you had done more to get them ready."
Or done more to keep them healthy.
Look at the Redskins, Giants, Browns and Bills, clubs already ravaged by injuries.
Washington saw tight ends Niles Paul (broken ankle) and Logan Paulsen (turf toe) lost for the season.
New York is trying to rebuild its secondary, and has lost two safeties for 2015, with several others sidelined, some with major injuries. It got so bad that projected starter Bennett Jackson tore up a knee late in a win over Jacksonville; Jackson was only on the field because the Giants had run out of safeties.
"Hopefully these injuries slow down," linebacker and defense leader Jon Beason said. "They have been coming fast and furious for us the past couple of few weeks."
And for Cleveland. At least the Browns haven't seen anyone sidelined for the regular season, but they've had an epidemic of soft tissue problems, which often stem from players not being fully fit when they enter workouts.
Buffalo has had practice sessions and games without its top five running backs and top three receivers. The Bills also lost two players to long-term injuries.
Trying to protect guys also becomes problematic, Bills coach Rex Ryan says, because it puts other players in situations they wouldn't normally be in.
"I think sometimes when you start taking plays off of somebody else and you put more on to other people," Ryan said, "and we watch that all the time. But it's something that obviously we've been bit with."
For years, suggestions from outside the NFL to cut back on the preseason have flooded the summer conversation. Complaints range from fans having to pay regular-season ticket prices for exhibition games to the lack of quality and excitement in such games to ... injuries.Remember how the folks in St. Louis felt when quarterback Sam Bradford went down last summer with a knee injury. Go back through the years and you'll find dozens of other such examples, all the way back to Joe Namath wrecking his knee in a 1971 preseason game.
But team owners are reluctant (to be kind; adamantly against might be more accurate) about reducing the number of exhibition games and the high profits they make from them. TV also likes the ratings the preseason games bring.
And don't even approach the coaches about cutting back more on prep time.
"You have to get ready," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "If there are fewer preseason games, you don't get to see young guys and you don't get to evaluate, and the older guys don't play themselves into shape. Some unfortunate things that go on but, we have to play the preseason games."
Adds veteran linebacker James Harrison, whose Steelers lost star center Maurkice Pouncey to a severe ankle injury:
"Football is about preparation, you've got to go out there and do it time and time again," Harrison said. "Sometimes people get hurt."
And sometimes, thankfully albeit rarely these days, they don't.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher after Sunday night's loss to Tennessee that no players were in the training room.
"That's good news," Fisher said, "going through a preseason game and having an empty training room."
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