Like a lot of people, I'm going to be asking plenty of questions during and after the Ravens' preseason game against the Washington Redskins Saturday night.
Whose stock went up? Whose stock went down? How did the first-team offense look? Did the starting defense play better? Did the outcomes of any positional battles become clearer?
But while all that analysis is interesting and certainly pertinent to the Ravens' prospects for 2015, it pales compared to one question that, in my opinion, dwarfs all others in importance.
Did any key players get seriously injured?
My dirty little secret is that's all I really want to know.
As important as those other questions are, the answer to the big one, about injuries, really determines whether this or any preseason game is a positive or negative for the Ravens.
Sorry if that sounds overly simplistic and a bit Draconian, but with the way injuries are piling up around the league and in the Ravens' camp, if the answer is negative, no key injuries, that's suffices for me as the definition of a passable night, regardless of what else happens.
And if the answer is positive, meaning a key injury occurs, that's really the only way a preseason game becomes truly relevant to the arc of a team's season – as a big bummer.
The Ravens have already experienced their share of injuries, with almost a half-dozen projected starters currently sidelined and two reserves lost for the season. It's worrisome stuff, but they've actually avoided the kind of shocking subtractions the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers absorbed when they played each other last weekend.
No one will remember who won that preseason game, but everyone will remember the setbacks the teams experienced. The Packers lost star receiver Jordy Nelson, to a season-ending knee injury, robbing quarterback Aaron Rodgers of his favorite target. The Steelers lost center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken fibula, robbing the Ravens' rivals of a vital puzzle piece, the anchor of their offensive line.
In the wake of that nationally-televised carnage and weeks of grim headlines about other players going down, injuries have become a major talking point in NFL locker rooms, front offices and certainly among fans. Are injuries, in fact, becoming more prevalent? Why? Should teams play fewer preseason games? Should they even bother to suit up marquee players in August?
This much is clear: injuries are indeed becoming more prevalent. In 2010, NFL teams lost a combined 1,276 man-games to injury. By 2013, the number was up to 1,600, a record. The average over the past three years is 1,430.
Determining why that's happening isn't easy. Some blame the latest collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2011, which put limits on contact in practices. That, theoretically, should protect players from injury, but New England Head Coach Bill Belichick, for one, believes it's leaving them less prepared for game-caliber contact.
I can't vouch for that either way, but I'm pretty sure another factor is also in play. Players are always getting bigger, faster and stronger, so it stands to reason that collisions between them are becoming fiercer and inevitably producing more collateral damage.
Additionally, while the "engineering" of today's athletes through better diet and more sophisticated training science (and performance-enhancing drugs in some cases) produces many amazing physical specimens, it could be some players' muscles are just too developed for their bone framework and thus more prone to injury.
Playing fewer preseason games probably wouldn't make a difference because just as many injuries are occurring in practices. Redskins linebacker Junior Galette was lost for the season with an Achilles injury suffered in practice earlier this week. The Ravens potentially lost Matt Elam and Brent Urban for the season to injuries that occurred at the Under Armour Performance Center.
Sometimes bad things happen in non-contact situations. Remember former Ravens cornerback Dominique Foxworth tearing up his knee in a walk-through before training camp?
"Sometimes guys get hurt out here in half-speed drills, as we've seen before, and sometimes they get hurt in full-speed games. It's just so unpredictable," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said this week.
All you can do, if you're the Ravens or any team, is hold your breath and let your key players take as many snaps as you think they need in preseason games, then get them out of there, quick.
Then, and only then, do you exhale.