By Josh Nagel
The NFL returns today when the Baltimore Ravens face the Chicago Bears in the annual Hall of Fame Game (8 p.m. ET). It will be played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, leading into the weekend’s festivities. The events will climax with the induction of this year’s class, which includes legends Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss, among others.
But what about the game, which officially kicks off the new season, or at least the preseason? Will we see the young Mitch Trubisky match up against veteran Joe Flacco? Will either of the defenses resemble those vaunted squads that gave us two of this year’s inductees? Don’t count it.
Sportsbooks list the Ravens as 2.5-point favorites — they opened as 1-point chalk — with the over-under for total points scored set at 33.5. And where there’s a spread, there’s a value side.
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This is the NFL head-coaching debut of Matt Nagy, the former Chiefs offensive coordinator who replaced John Fox on the Bears’ sideline. Nagy brought in more offensive brain power, hiring former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich as his offense coordinator.
They will be charged with reviving an offense that ranked No. 30 in the NFL with per-game averages of 16.5 points and 287.4 yards. Last season’s second overall draft pick, QB Mitchell Trubisky, is not expected to play Thursday, leaving Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray to split snaps.
The Bears ended up ranked No. 10 in total defense and addressed their biggest weakness by drafting Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round. Smith also will miss the Hall of Fame Game amid a contract holdout. Still, Chicago is expected to be vastly improved.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are looking to bounce back from an uneven 9-7 campaign. They started the season 4-6 but rallied down the stretch, winning five of six before losing their season finale to Cincinnati. That last home loss kept them out of the playoffs.
Veteran coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco return, but their reign as faces of the franchise could be in jeopardy if Baltimore fails to rebound this season.
To help the league’s No. 27-ranked offense, the Ravens drafted Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville in the first round. The electric dual-threat quarterback will make his NFL debut and should get a ton of opportunities. He’ll eventually give way to Robert Griffin III, 2012’s version of Jackson, who is now looking to revive his career.
Harbaugh historically has owned the preseason, going 4-0 in three of the past four years. But this time he’s going up against a new coach eager to make his mark. We can tell you Nagel is going Over 33.5 points, but his much stronger play is on the side.
So, who wins the Hall of Fame Game? And what are the key factors that have Nagel sold on one side? Visit SportsLine now to see the detailed analysis and pick from SportsLine’s senior analyst who has hit nearly 85 percent of his recent NFL picks!
Josh Nagel, SportsLine’s assistant managing editor, hit 70 percent of his NFL spread selections last season, including a torrid 11-2 mark down the stretch that included a perfect 3-0 postseason run. His process includes analytics, motivational spots and contrarian thinking, combined with an ultra-selective approach to making and releasing selections.