The NFL Preseason kicks off today, Thursday, August 1st at 8pm on NBC. The game is between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, and will be played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium (formerly known as Fawcett Stadium) in Canton, Ohio, right next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’ve not been to the Hall in years, but I was lucky enough to go to one HOF game, Colts vs Redskins, and it’s an experience to remember. The stadium is so small, the audience can get up close & personal with the players, and the game begins to feel very exciting very fast. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some football! Here’s a look at the teams that will be playing tonight:
Denver Broncos – Last season was a disappointment for the Broncos, as Case Keenum couldn’t get the job done and failed to take Denver to the playoffs. The result was not only his loss of a job, but the firing of HC Vance Joseph, with ex-Bears DC Vic Fangio taking over the job and veteran QB Joe Flacco coming over from the Ravens to lead the offense back to the postseason. Denver’s offense should be improved, with Flacco at the helm and with a host of talents at the weapons positions: Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Noah Fant. The addition of rookie TE Fant helps the Broncos in an area at which they have been weak for years, and the TE position is one that Flacco looks to in key situations, so look for action early & often there. The defense should be a feared unit this season if Fangio’s scheme can come to fruition; Denver has the skill and leadership to return to the Orange Crush 2.0 days that aren’t so long passed. Although their schedule is difficult, with the Chiefs and the Chargers commanding the heights, the Broncos can make a run at the playoffs with a balanced team. If not, we could see rookie QB Drew Lock start games sooner rather than later, as Denver looks for the answer at that position, and GM John Elway tries to prove that he knows what he’s doing. One more terrible year could spell the end of Elway’s regime, and start a new era in the Mile High City.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons always seem to be one piece, one pivotal moment, away from a Super Bowl or a Super Bowl victory. Behind Matt Ryan, the offense always has a great opportunity to compete, and they’ve reached the SB once in recent times, only to give up the lead to NE and fail to reach the ultimate goal. Matty Ice can take them back though, with Julio Jones and Devontae Freeman at his side. The offense is not the problem, but they’ll need better play from both their offensive and defensive lines if they want to be competitive with New Orleans and with Carolina, two teams that promise to be in the thick of the playoff hunt. Atlanta focused hard on OTs and OGs in the draft and in free agency; let’s see if these new linemen can step up, protect Ryan, and allow him to become a top passer this year, which should be a very attainable goal. With a new OC and no DC other than HC Dan Quinn himself, we’ll see what the staff can create to allow the team to succeed, and to make up for many losses from a defense that already wasn’t top tier. There is no doubt that the Falcons can score; if they can stop teams from scoring as well they will be a hard team to beat week in and week out. A few more years of mediocrity, however, could spell the end of Ryan and of Quinn, so look for Atlanta to pull out all the stops to win right now, knowing that the future might bring many changes.