It's football! NFL Football! We did it, everybody!
The first game of the NFL preseason is the Hall of Fame Game, held at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, a 22,000-seater located right next to pro football's shrine. No, it's not the best football ever, since both teams are likely going to rest their starters for the majority of the game in hopes of avoiding injuries. To them, the Hall of Fame Game is an unnecessary fifth preseason game while every other team in the league plays just four.
But still: dudes in pads throwing, catching and running with an oblong ball while strong dudes on another team try to tackle them. It's been six months since the Super Bowl, and now, it's back.
Meet the Cowboys
Tony Romo got his paper in the offseason, and now the Cowboys will hope their happy QB can lead them to the postseason after an 8-8 season left them just one win short last year.
It's the first opportunity for Dallas fans to see the 4-3, Tampa 2 defense Monte Kiffin has installed. Even without the important players going for all four quarters, this game provides a live action situation for the coaching staff to determine which players fit into the new roles called for in the new system and which are less comfortable.
It's also a trial for the offensive line. As Blogging the Boys writes, injuries have wracked the Cowboys in the trenches, and they'll only have four healthy players available against the Dolphins at their three interior offensive line positions. One of those is Travis Frederick, a rookie out of Wisconsin trying to show he deserved his first-round selection, not common among centers.
This is the fifth time the Boys have appeared in Canton and the first time since 2010, when they beat Cincinnati, 16-7, on three David Buehler field goals and a pick-six of a pass by Carson Palmer's brother, Jordan. 2010 was also the last time Dallas made the playoffs, so perhaps Canton's a good luck charm.
Meet the Dolphins
Miami needs Ryan Tannehill to show progression in year two, as its 2012 first-round draft pick threw more interceptions than touchdowns in a rookie campaign in which the Dolphins went 7-9. Finishing just a game below .500 meant Miami was actually in the hunt for the postseason most of the way, as a top-10 defensive unit bolstered a squad that wasn't particularly effective with a rookie quarterback at the helm.
One of the keys to watch for is who emerges at running back. Tannehill now has Mike Wallace as a receiver, but without Reggie Bush, it's not entirely clear who will emerge at running back between Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Mike Gillislee is also in the picture, and several other players will be fighting for roster spots with the team trying to figure out who gets touches.
It's the fourth time the Dolphins have played in the Hall of Fame Game and they've never won, most recently losing, 27-24, to the Chicago Bears in 2005.
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The Dolphins are favored by a field goal or less, with most sportsbooks placing them as 3-point favorites after the line opened at 1.5 points in favor of the Cowboys. Football is kinda tough to predict when both teams turn to their backups after just one series, so it's sort of hard to set odds on this one.
The Hall of Fame Game is technically considered its own week on the NFL schedule, so both teams will also play in Week 1 of the NFL preseason next Friday: the Dolphins head to Jacksonville for an intrastate matchup, while the Cowboys will play in Oakland.