Among the telltale signs that the NFL regular season is near is the annual Hall of Fame Game. The first game of the NFL's preseason, the Hall of Fame Game brings excitement for what's ahead while also paying homage to previous gridiron greats. This year's game will feature the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, teams that will also face off during Week 17 of the regular season.
Thursday night's game will be played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, a stone's throw away from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. With the capacity crowd of 23,000, the stadium provides a unique atmosphere that harkens back to a simpler time in professional football. As always, the stadium will be packed for the Hall of Fame Game with football-craved fans whose six-month wait to watch NFL football will finally be rewarded, even if the game does not officially count in the final win-loss tally.
Below is a preview of Thursday night's showdown, along with how to follow the action in real time.
How to watch
It's fitting that the NFL's first game will feature the team that has been in the headlines the most over the past several months. Gang Green has had a dizzying offseason that was headlined by the acquisition of four-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers. A 7-10 outfit a season ago, the Jets are expected to be a playoff contender this year with Rodgers and a defense that finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed last season.
Rodgers won't play on Thursday night, so that means that fans will instead see Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson is surely looking to put his best foot forward in front of a national TV audience after losing his starting job last year despite posting a 5-4 record as a starter. Fans will also get their first look at Jets first-round pick Will McDonald IV, an edge rusher who had 34 sacks during his time at Iowa State.
Like the Jets, the Browns went 7-10 last year and are hoping to be a player in the AFC playoff race this season. This will be the first full season in Cleveland for Deshaun Watson, who split his six starts last season while completing just 58.2 percent of his throws in those games. Watson will again lean on the running of Nick Chubb, a Pro Bowler each of the last four years. Last year, Chubb ran for a career-high 1,525 yards that included 12 touchdown runs and a 5 yards-per-carry average.
Thursday night will be Browns fans' first look at rookie Cedric Tillman, a third-round pick who caught 64 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final season at Tennessee. Also making his NFL debut for Cleveland is quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick who threw for 3,154 yards and 27 touchdowns last fall while guiding UCLA to a 9-4 record.