News and notes from around the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League.
The Steelers will play their first of four preseason games on Thursday night, when they make the short trip to Canton, Ohio to face the Dallas Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
That’s the recent usual number, but the Hall of Fame Game has always been the kickoff the NFL season and an extra preseason game for both of its competitors. In the past, that meant that teams traveling to Canton got five preseason games instead of four. This year, with the league moving to a 17-game regular season schedule, the preseason has been shortened to three weeks for the rest of the NFL, while the Steelers and Cowboys will stick at four.
The Steelers as an organization are pretty familiar with the phenomenon. As the second-closest NFL city to Canton and the team with the third-most enshrined members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Steelers are already tied for first with six trips to the Hall of Fame Game, and after Thursday night, the Steelers and Cowboys will each have played in seven Hall of Fame Games, two more than the six teams tied for third place.
So the Steelers will get an extra preseason game this year, which will feel like the normal number of preseason games, and they’re fairly used to playing an extra game, having done so six times as a franchise and twice under head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert.
So does it matter? The players wanted to reduce the length of the preseason for a reason, citing the 2020 season without a preseason as precedent that the four games are not strictly necessary from a team-development process. The Steelers have felt that pain recently, losing kicker Shaun Suisham in the 2015 Hall of Fame Game to what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury. Most of the Steelers prominent veterans will not play Thursday.
Is there a benefit to the extra preseason work or is it just one more opportunity for injury? Here’s how the participants in the last few Hall of Fame Games have fared in the regular season:
2019 Denver Broncos 7-9, Atlanta Falcons 7-9
2018 Chicago Bears 12-4, Baltimore Ravens, 10-6
2017 Arizona Cardinals 8-8, Dallas Cowboys 9-7
2015 Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6, Minnesota Vikings 11-5
2014 New York Giants 6-10, Buffalo Bills 9-7
2013 Miami Dolphins 8-8, Dallas Cowboys 8-8
2012 Arizona Cardinals 5-11, New Orleans Saints 7-9
2010 Dallas Cowboys 6-10, Cincinnati Bengals 4-12
On average, the Hall of Fame Game participants of the last decade finished just a hair below .500, with 7.9 wins. If there was random sampling, that would suggest that playing the game has no impact on a team’s future record.
But there isn’t random sampling. The Hall of Fame Game coincides with the enshrinement of players and the NFL tries to match up teams with players going into Canton for the game. It’s also a national TV event that attempts to draw viewers.
So for the most part, the truly bad teams are left out of the rotation for the game, while the very best franchises are targeted more frequently. So on the whole, playing in Canton is probably a net negative for the team’s 2021 outlook.
You won’t hear Mike Tomlin complaining, though. He said playing in the game is “important to our franchise” because of the five players going into Canton will the team participates next door.
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AROUND THE NFL
🏈 1989 Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, delivering his famous line, “What I wouldn’t give to put my hands under Mike Webster’s butt one more time.”
CB Mel Blount was also enshrined that day.
🏈 1967 Steelers QB Bobby Layne went into Canton.