The Hall of Fame game makes its post-lockout return in 2012, sporting a preseason matchup between two potential playoff contenders. The Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints are two very solid squads, but both have questions remaining.
This game can be more than an over-hyped preseason grab for ratings. It's a necessary dose of the sport we've all so desperately missed, and it will allow us to begin answering some of the bigger questions still facing these two franchises.
Saints' Three Biggest Questions
1) Can the Saints effectively minimize the loss of head coach Sean Payton?
Interim coach Joe Vitt didn't miss much of a beat after taking over for Payton last year. New Orleans went on to to average 476.1 yards a a game, scoring 40 or more points six out of the last 10 games.
The Saints also lost two of their three games in that stretch, and Payton won't be sitting in the coaching box this year.
Seeing a well-oiled machine on both sides of the football this early on would give a decent indication that Vitt has things under control.
2) Can new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo rebound from a tough stint in St. Louis to lead a unit coming off a tough offseason?
Spagnuolo, despite his 10-38 record as head coach of the Rams, is still a reputable defensive mind. This is the same man who led the New York Giants defense on a stunning playoff run and on to a Super Bowl win in 2007.
At this point, though, just about anyone would be am improvement over the banished Greg Williams.
3) Who will fill the shoes of Jonathan Vilma, who has led the Saints defense since 2008?
It's a veteran-filled unit, but nonetheless, the loss will be felt.
New Orleans was active in free agency in an effort to have contingency plans in place. Curtis Lofton was among those signings and should take on most of Vilma's positional duties, but it's a bit much to ask for a player to take on a leadership role as well.
It'll be interesting to see who takes on those responsibilities.
Cardinals' Three Biggest Questions
1) Kevin Kolb or John Skelton?
Arizona has a decent problem on its hands, with two starting-caliber quarterbacks on the roster. It certainly could be worse, and the Cardinals have taken a logical and patient approach to naming their eventual starter.
Kolb has the edge in experience, while Skelton apparently has the support of the locker room, so this one is going to have to be decided on the field.
Every snap counts when the race is a dead heat.
2) How will the carries be distributed when the strengths and weaknesses of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are considered?
Both have injury and durability concerns at this stage and, fittingly, neither is expected to play in the Hall of Fame game. Arizona has six other backs on the roster who now have a great shot at impressing the coaching staff with extended reps.
3) Can Larry Fitzgerald be rescued from double coverage as a result of Michael Floyd emerging?
It would be an accomplishment in itself if the Cardinals' first-round pick was able to crack the starting lineup under coach Ken Whisenhunt. He's got a shot at it, though, and his vertical ability would likely force the defense to pay some safety attention to him.
These story lines are all tied into each other. Whomever develops the greatest rapport with Floyd early on may have a distinct advantage in the quarterback competition. Floyd is the future at the position.