After 172 days of waiting, football is finally back. The last time we saw an NFL game came in February when the Rams beat the Bengals 23-20 in Super Bowl LVI. After going nearly six months without football, the NFL will finally be returning on Thursday night with the Hall of Fame game between the Raiders and Jaguars.
Sure, the Hall of Fame game isn't quite as big as the Super Bowl, but it's the Super Bowl of preseason games, which is why you should definitely plan to watch it.
Although most starters won't be playing tonight, the game will still be worth watching if only to see the how each coach handles his debut game with his new team. For Las Vegas, Josh McDaniels will be coaching his first game with the Raiders after spending the past 10 seasons on New England's sideline.
As for Jacksonville, Doug Pederson will be coaching his first game with the Jaguars and as long as he doesn't do something dumb like kick his placekicker, he'll have the team miles ahead of where it was last year under Urban Meyer.
Former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo tells @NFLSTROUD that Urban Meyer kicked him during an August warmup this preseason https://t.co/JoN0UDdVz1 pic.twitter.com/aqFS4HScCL— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) December 15, 2021
Even with most starters for both teams on the bench, there are still a few things to watch out for tonight:
- Storyline to watch for the Raiders: McDaniels' first game as Raiders coach.
Not only is this McDaniels' first game as coach of the Raiders, but this is a homecoming game for him that's basically being played in his own backyard. McDaniels went to Canton McKinley high school and he actually played his high school games in the same stadium where he'll be coaching in tonight. NFL coaches don't usually get too excited about preseason games, but I have to think McDaniels is excited about this one.
- Storyline to watch for the Jaguars: Kicking competition (Elliott Fry vs. Ryan Santoso).
The kicking competition in Jacksonville got off to such an ugly start that one kicker got cut before the first week of training camp was over. That was Andrew Mevis and he got dumped after a train wreck of a day at camp where he missed a field goal so badly, that he hit a bystander in the head (And that bystander was former Cowboys coach Dave Campo). The Hall of Fame game is mostly going to be backups, but when it comes to kickers, there are no backups. With Fry and Santoso, you're getting two guys who are both fighting to win the job. We won't see anyone win the job tonight, but we could see someone lose it. If one kicker goes 0-for-3 and hits an innocent bystander with a kick, that might be enough for the Jags to give the job to the other guy.
- Player you will be keeping an eye on for the Raiders: Jarrett Stidham. We don't usually see too much offense in the Hall of Fame game because we usually have a backup QB starting and they generally aren't that great, but this is a unique situation. The likely starter for the Raiders is Stidham, who spent three seasons with McDaniels in New England. Stidham knows the offense inside and out. I think McDaniels will be more than comfortable letting Stidham sling the ball around, which means we might actually see a few points scored in this game (Hall of Fame games are almost never high-scoring).
- Player you will be keeping an eye on for the Jaguars: Travon Walker. We know Trevor Lawrence won't be playing, but there is one No. 1 overall pick who might be on the field tonight and that's Walker. The Jaguars surprised a lot of people when they made him the top pick in April and I won't be surprised if he plays a few snaps in tonight's game. By all accounts, Walker is having a decent training camp so far, and now we'll see if that translates to success in an actual game. If he does get on the field, he'll be facing mostly backup offensive linemen, so we could see him make a big play or two.
Breech's pick: Raiders 20-13 over Jaguars (Raiders cover -2.5). Not only is this a homecoming game for McDaniels, but he's got a starting quarterback in Stidham who knows how to run his system. When it comes to preseason football, I always pick the team with the better quarterback and the better roster, and in this case, the Raiders are better in both categories.
If you want to watch tonight's game, it will be kicking off at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. One other reason to watch is that you'll get to see the debut of NBC's new announcing duo of Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth. Tirico is replacing Al Michaels, who didn't get his contract renewed after it expired following Super Bowl LVI.