The painstaking drought has finally ended. On Thursday the NFL takes over prime-time television, as the Atlanta Falcons host the Denver Broncos in the Hall of Fame Game on NBC. The official kickoff to the NFL preseason will begin at 8 p.m. ET in Canton, Ohio, as part of the festivities leading up to the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

While you won’t see much, if any, playing time from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan or newly healed running back Devonta Freeman, the Hall of Fame Game is the first chance to jump back into some long-awaited football betting action.

The Broncos, under first-year head coach Vic Fangio, are a three-point favorite in the matchup. Denver spent the offseason adjusting to its new leader, who served as defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears from 2015-18, along with new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell (Bears defensive backs coach under Fangio) and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who will assume the role of OC for the first time in his NFL career.

Aside from the coaching staff, Denver brought in quarterback Joe Flacco, who may see a minute or two on the field Thursday, though Kevin Hogan will get the start.

With so much to prove in Denver, the Broncos are a solid pick to win outright (-135) and cover the spread Thursday. Scangarello will experiment with the offense in the preseason opener, and you can expect to see rookie tight end Noah Fant in the mix to showcase his value at the NFL level.

As for Atlanta, Dan Quinn isn’t known to take exhibition games too seriously. Since 2017 the Falcons have gone 0-8 in the preseason. Backup quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Kurt Benkert will split the majority of playing time, while Ryan, Freeman and star receiver Julio Jones should mostly sit on the sideline. Atlanta suffered a ton of injuries in 2018, so conservative play is the only logical choice.

Atlanta’s defense has potential to wreak havoc in the league if it can stay healthy but has a lot to improve upon from last season, while Denver’s defense is capable of transforming from decent to excellent with Fangio and Donatell at the helm. Look for neither team to get much going on offense Thursday night. With the Over/Under set at 34, you’d be wise to take the under, especially considering the average point total in the Hall of Fame Game is 30.3 since 2010.

While exhibition games are usually far from pretty, the Hall of Fame Game is still a fun way to get your football fix ahead of the regular season and determine the depth of talent each team possesses. Thursday night should offer plenty of insight into two franchises looking to return to glory. The Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015, the year before the Falcons fell short to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Neither team made the playoffs last season, but there’s a good chance you could see at least one of them back in 2019.


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