NFL football is finally back as we kick things off with the annual Hall of Fame Game. This season’s inaugural preseason game features two teams with a combined 11 Super Bowls: the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL betting lines make Pittsburgh a very slight favorite here, with the total set at 32½.
Of course, if this were the regular season we may see the online betting odds shift the other way. But we’re rolling with the second and third stringers for both teams here. The edge is with Pittsburgh and its defense though Dallas has won its last three Hall of Fame Games.
Cowboys: Step Up, Rookies
The story for the Cowboys here lies with their rookies. Dallas used its first six picks to upgrade its defense, which was a bottom-five unit in the NFL last year. This includes taking Penn State’s LB Micah Parsons and Kentucky’s CB Kelvin Joseph.
Parsons has been a monster in OTA’s for the Cowboys while Joseph has begun to assert himself lately. It’s unlikely that Dallas’s two prized rookies play more than a few snaps, but they should quickly make an impact.
As for their quarterback, look for the Cowboys to roll with Garrett Gilbert to start while Ben DiNucci or Cooper Rush finishes the game. DiNucci played three games with Dallas last season completing 23 of 43 passes while Rush has one career completion since 2017.
Steelers: Plenty To Prove
The Steelers will also flash their rookies in this game and that begins with their first-round pick: RB Najee Harris out of Alabama. The 23-year-old was a force for the Crimson Tide finishing 2020 with 1,891 yards from scrimmage.
Fan footage from across the stadium shows Najee Harris’ big run to start a team period. pic.twitter.com/pLJhpwFeN6
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 28, 2021
While under center, Pittsburgh may turn the ball to Dwayne Haskins when Mason Rudolph has gotten enough snaps. The former Buckeye is a reclamation project for Pittsburgh with a career passer rating of 74.4 in 13 career starts with the Redskins.
Haskins just has to be decent enough to win. The Steelers’ defense can do most of the heavy lifting as one of the deepest units in the NFL. The team finished third overall last season and added reinforcements like three-time Pro Bowler OLB Melvin Ingram.
Pick: Keep ‘er Steady
The Cowboys have been on a roll with the Hall of Fame Games, but the Steelers just have more depth especially on defense. However, Dallas’ offensive line is one of the sturdiest though not the deepest on paper.
Players like Brandon Knight and Terence Steele got plenty of burn last season. They may see some snaps here, which should offset the fearsome Steelers’ defense, which led the league in sacks last season.
As for the Steelers, they will need to rely on their skill players more as they enter 2021 with one of the shakiest offensive lines. Pro Football Focus ranked them second-last and with too many moving pieces, it might be something Dallas can exploit.
Harris will have to get the most out of his limited snaps as he’ll be a key cog not just in this game but for the Steelers to go far this season. Despite the flimsy O-line, bank on the Steelers to keep it steady enough to eke out a win.
Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers -1½
Bonus Pick: Wide Open
We talked about defenses a lot here, but there are more combustible elements on both offenses.
The Cowboys will make play calling easier for DiNucci and RB Rico Dowdle to gain yards while the Steelers’ skill players should do damage despite the lack of support upfront. As a result, we could see a final score with at least one team hitting 20 points.
You’d be hard pressed to find a total lower than this for the rest of even the preseason.