The end of the 2019 NFL offseason is in sight, folks. On Thursday, the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons will face off in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, marking the official start of the NFL preseason.
The game, which also kicks off Hall of Fame Weekend, is a fifth preseason game for Denver and Atlanta. The rest of the league will begin preseason play on August 8.
On Saturday, Champ Bailey, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt, Tony Gonzalez, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed and Johnny Robinson will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here's everything you need to know about the 2019 Hall of Fame Game itself.
2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game
Who: Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons
When: Thursday, August 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio
National TV: NBC
What to Expect
Like all preseason games, Thursday's contest is purely an exhibition. Only this one takes place ahead of the rest of the preseason and on a field that also regularly hosts college and high school football games.
There is a sense of honor surrounding the Hall of Fame Game—especially with the league entering its 100th season—but the stakes for both teams are not particularly high.
Fans shouldn't expect to see many of their favorite stars or even starters, for that matter. The Broncos, for example, have already announced starting quarterback and offseason acquisition Joe Flacco won't participate. Instead, it will be Kevin Hogan and rookies Drew Lock and Brett Rypien at quarterback for Denver.
"We're going to go with Kevin to begin with, and then Drew is going to follow him and then [Brett Rypien] is going to follow him," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said, per Ryan O'Halloran and Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post.
For Broncos fans, that look at Lock—potentially Denver's quarterback of the future—will be the biggest reason to tune in.
For Falcons fans, it may be an early look at rookie offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. They're expected to be an important piece of the puzzle this season after quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times in 2018.
Falcons fans probably won't see Ryan play—or Devonta Freeman, Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones for that matter—but they may get a glimpse at how his new-look offensive line performs.
The fact that the stars won't be out doesn't mean this won't be a valuable game for both teams. Denver and Atlanta will get an extra opportunity to evaluate the back ends of their rosters, and they'll get to experience an extra week of game preparation. This is a great opportunity for two teams looking to bounce back in 2019—the Falcons and Broncos went 7-9 and 6-10, respectively last year.
"I'm glad we have it," Fangio said, per Jon Heath of Broncos Wire. "I think it's a great opportunity for us to have five extra practices. We need it. We are a new staff and a new team, a lot of new things going on. It gives us an extra game to play young players and help our evaluation. I see no negatives to it myself."
The only real negative for fans is that the game will feature several unknowns and could be a bit sloppy, as the first tuneup contest of 2019. But, hey, it's real honest-to-goodness NFL football, folks. After six months without it, we'll take what we can get.