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2022 Hall of Fame Game preview: What to watch for in Jaguars-Raiders

8 p.m. ET (NBC) | Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium

The 2022 season begins Thursday night in Canton, Ohio, home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first NFL action of the year.

The Jacksonville Jaguars embark on a new journey under coach Doug Pederson, who arrives in Duval County as the man chosen to get quarterback Trevor Lawrence back on track toward stardom, and the Jaguars on the path to success. His tenure as Jacksonville's coach begins just steps from football's most hallowed halls.

The same goes for the Raiders, who are looking to build on their surprise success of last season achieved amid plenty of adversity. This time, they'll take the field with a new coach of their own, longtime Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Because it's the preseason, we won't see a ton of the main characters in action Thursday night. But for the first time since the confetti fell on the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California, the NFL will return to what it does best: entertaining the viewing audience with America's favorite sport.

Here are four things to watch for in the 2022 Hall of Fame Game:

  1. Josh McDaniels visits home. McDaniels is taking the first steps of his first head coaching job in more than a decade, and it comes with expectations typical of a team looking to make it two straight playoff seasons. His journey begins in a place he knows well: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, located directly next to McDaniels' alma mater, Canton McKinley High School. We can bank on a couple of references to this during coverage of the game, and because it's a preseason game, the final result won't matter much. What will be important, however, is how his Raiders perform in game action. The pressure is slightly higher than a typical preseason game, and this will be the first test of how the Raiders' program operates under McDaniels. Raiders fans are hoping it goes better than the final few weeks of his time in Denver.
  2. Canton becomes Luton Land. Lawrence isn't playing in the Hall of Fame Game, nor is his old Clemson buddy, running back Travis Etienne. Without these key figures participating, the spotlight shifts to backup quarterback Jake Luton, who will likely get a healthy share of reps Thursday night and will need to capitalize on the exposure in order to beat out Kyle Sloter for the third job behind Lawrence and veteran C.J. Beathard. The same goes for running backs Ryquell Armstead and Snoop Conner, who should also see additional game action thanks to the absences of Etienne and James Robinson (who is still returning from a torn Achilles suffered late last season). Preseason is often about competition on the lower levels of the depth chart, and the Jaguars' reserves will certainly get their chances Thursday night.
  3. New faces, everywhere. We can list them in no specific order: Jaguars coach Doug Pederson, Raiders prized acquisitions Davante Adams and Chandler Jones, Jacksonville's free-agent haul headlined by Brandon Scherff and Christian Kirk. Even if most don't see meaningful action (because it is the start of the preseason, after all), they'll still be in the house in their new colors. It's the start of two new eras for these squads with vastly different expectations, but they'll both hit the field with the same goal: Start the preseason on the right foot and build positive momentum. If anything, it'll be a night for the football world to adjust to familiar figures in new threads.
  4. Finally, football has returned! The Hall of Fame Game stands as the unofficial start of the pursuit of a Lombardi Trophy for all 32 NFL teams. Although only two squads will play Thursday night, the entire league will be watching and celebrating the first sign of the new season ahead. America (and the rest of the world) will relish in the fact that after an entertaining but lengthy offseason, there is fresh gridiron action. And for that, we can all be thankful. Let the pads crack, the footballs fly and the whistles blow. Football is back.

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