Say what you will about the Hall of Fame Game — that it will feature players few have heard of, that it once was canceled because of a field malfunction, that it stretches the definition of “NFL football game” — but the fact remains that American professional football returns Thursday night with a preseason game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos. Nearly every week between now and the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 will be filled with NFL games, and it begins Thursday night. Here’s what you need to know.
- Falcons vs. Broncos
- Time, TV: 8 p.m., NBC.
- Where: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton, Ohio.
- Spread, total (as of Thursday morning): Broncos by 2.5, 34.5.
Atlanta has lost its past eight preseason games under Coach Dan Quinn, who hopes to see his “Plan D” program — where the team’s younger players receive extra instruction from coaches and veterans after practices end — bear fruit Thursday night. Those players and the 23 rookies on the Falcons’ training camp roster will get the bulk of the snaps, meaning we won’t see much of veterans such as quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman. Instead, look for players such as quarterback Kurt Benkert (challenging veteran Matt Schaub for the role of Ryan’s top backup) and running backs Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James (all in the running, along with Ito Smith, to replace the departed Tevin Coleman as the second weapon in Atlanta’s two-headed backfield).
After spending most of the past two decades as a defensive coordinator, 60-year-old Vic Fangio gets his first game as an NFL head coach. This week, he said that while the overall stakes involved in the preseason opener are decidedly low, “it’s like playing a game of horse in the backyard — you still want to win.” Like the Falcons, the Denver team that takes the field Thursday will bear little resemblance to the team that suits up for the regular season opener. Newly acquired quarterback Joe Flacco will not play, with journeyman veteran Kevin Hogan getting the start and second-round pick Drew Lock backing him up. Three first-team offensive linemen — center Connor McGovern, left guard Dalton Risner and left tackle Garrett Bolles — will start, however, remaining in the game at least “for a few plays,” Fangio said.
But what about the Hall of Fame ceremony?
The Class of 2019 — Champ Bailey, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt, Tony Gonzalez, Ty Lay, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed and Johnny Robinson — will be enshrined at 7 p.m. Eastern Saturday in a ceremony televised by the NFL Network and ESPN.