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What to look forward to in tonight’s Hall of Fame game

NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Training Camp Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be a game that matters, but for the first time since February, we’re getting some actual football.

Tonight at 8 PM eastern time, the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens will face off in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game at (where else) the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. While both teams missed out on the playoffs last year, there’s actually plenty of reason to be excited about what they have in store for 2018.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know how excited I am about the 2018 Bears. The biggest issue this team had in 2017 was indisputably the receiving corps, where the only players that had more than one touchdown were tight ends and running backs. The team responded by signing Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson, Falcons receiver Taylor Gabriel, and Eagles TE Trey Burton, while selecting Memphis receiver Anthony Miller in this year’s draft.

Combine that with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Adam Shaheen, and (maybe) a healthy Kevin White, and the Bears have playmakers everywhere, with former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy pulling the strings.

The defense features a promising safety duo in Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson, and the team drafted Roquan Smith out of Georgia in the first round to a defensive line that includes Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, etc. It’s hard to see the Bears not having a better record this season than last, and they could be a sneaky playoff contender in a loaded NFC.

The Ravens have one of the league’s best defenses, and have made an effort to form some identity on offense in an attempt to contend for the playoffs. The team signed receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead in the offseason, and drafted tight end Hayden Hurst and quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of last year’s draft.

I had Lamar Jackson as the best quarterback out of the 2018 draft class. He’s a much better passer than his critics give him any credit for, and as a runner he may be the best prospect since Cam Newton. His combination of speed, elusiveness, and ability to be lined up in all sorts of areas as a runner makes him dangerous. As a passer, he’s excellent down the field, is extremely poised under pressure, and can fit the ball into tight windows.

If Lamar Jackson starts for the Ravens, there’s actual reason to be excited about that offense. Michael Crabtree is a high quality receiver that is a master at sideline catches, putting himself in a position for yards after the catch, and someone that offers great route running and ball skills. John Brown has been a quality receiver when healthy, and he gets a second chance to do some damage in Baltimore. Combined with a well coached running game, and this Ravens team could be fun to watch as long as Joe Flacco doesn’t start.

On the Bears’ side of the ball, guys like Kevin White, Anthony Miller, and Adam Shaheen are expected to play tonight.

For the Ravens, expect guys like Lamar Jackson, Hayden Hurst, Jaleel Scott, Breshad Perriman, and Jordan Lasley to play tonight.

And, of course, expect the infamous helmet contact rule the league enforced in the offseason to rear its ugly head tonight. I expect to be infuriated about this rule early on. I’m hoping that will change as the season progresses, but this is the NFL, where nothing is run correctly.

With that said, the game will be on at 8 pm eastern time on NBC, and can be streamed live via NBC Sports Live as well.