Game of Thrones – NFL Edition

As fantasy football “warriors” throughout the land await the NFL’s decision into Ezekiel Elliot’s domestic violence investigation, the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys are gearing up to face off in the Hall of Fame Game, the first preseason game of the 2017-18 season.  The game will take place on Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 and will be followed by the induction of the 2017 Hall of Fame Class on Saturday, August 5th, 2017.  Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, and current Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, among others, will be enshrined and placed on a throne of their own, forever.

Regardless of the rise in player safety concerns, every year two NFL teams are blessed with an extra preseason game known as the Hall of Fame Game.  With the possibility of losing key players to injury in “meaningless games”, many coaches and players continue to question the need for four preseason games, let alone a fifth, but the HOF Game kicks off another party nonetheless.  Ironically, the 2016 HOF Game was cancelled due to player safety concerns over what many thought were improper field conditions.  After a year off, and millions of dollars in renovations to the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the Hall of Fame Game will go on!  Don’t let the name of the game fool you as the likeliness of any future Hall of Fame inductees playing, is slim to none.

Arizona’s head coach, Bruce Arians, confirmed Tuesday that his first-stringers will not play.  While Jason Garrett, head coach of the Cowboys, has been less revealing about who will play against the Cardinals, he did say that several players will not make the trip to Canton, including rookies Ryan Switzer (WR) and Jourdan Lewis (CB).  It would be surprising if surefire Hall of Famer, Jason Witten, does anything but attend the coin toss.  Headed in to his 15th season at age 35, the organization’s desire to suit Witten up for an extra preseason game is surely nonexistent.

While much of the discussion circling the Cowboys this offseason has been focused on the negative off-field issues relating to Zeke, and the wrongfully accused Lucky Whitehead, Big-D still has plenty to be positive about.  For the first time since he has been drafted, Jaylon Smith took part in back-to-back padded practices this past weekend.  For many draft experts, Smith was a lock to become a top 10 pick until a significant knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl led to some of the same experts questioning if he’d ever play again.  While his status for the HOF game is still uncertain, the progression he is making has brought hope to one of the most unstable positions on the Cowboy’s roster.

Aside from Fitzgerald and Palmer announcing their return for the 2017-18 season, BirdGang fans haven’t heard much positivity, either.  David Johnson, arguably the league’s best running bank and most dynamic playmaker, had a breakout season in 2016, but for much of the offseason Cardinals fans have been continuously reminded that their quarterback is turning 38. The Cards have yet to find his replacement. Combine that with the loss of vital pieces of the defensive puzzle and it’s easy to understand how some may see the glass as half empty.  Make no mistake, the Cardinals still have plenty of star power.  The Red Birds may have lost Tony Jefferson and Calais Campbell, but superstars Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, and rising superstar Markus Golden remain. In camp, Robert Nkemdiche has looked like the first round pick the organization expected him to be a year ago.

With many starters from both sidelines sitting out, all eyes will be on the active rookies.  Taco Charlton’s professional debut this Thursday will take place only a few hours from his hometown of Pickerington, Ohio.  With a first-round payday, one can assume the amount of tickets stashed away at will call for his friends and family will be substantial.  Defensive back, Chidobe Awuzi, has been impressive in camp thus far, but having to learn various positions could result in an increased amount of action come Thursday evening.  Deone Bucannon’s ankle injury has led to an accelerated learning camp for 13th overall pick, Haason Reddick.  Reddick has already been running with the first team defense so should he play, it is likely that his snaps will be limited.  However, don’t be surprised when he makes his presence felt immediately.  A few Cardinal rookies to keep an eye on will be safety Budda Baker and wide receiver Chad Williams. Drawing comparisons to the Honey Badger and Anquan Boldin, these rookies could help ease the pessimistic thoughts many Cardinals fans may be having about the future.  Only time will tell.

Kickoff is set for 8pm ET, August 3rd, 2017.  Here’s to a healthy season.

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