The NFL is back in action. As usual, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game marks the start of the preseason slate. This year's matchup features the Buffalo Bills going up against the New York Giants, with just over a month until the regular season begins.
Both teams have plenty of questions they hope to answer starting Sunday night. In the big picture, the Bills head into the season looking to end a 14-year playoff drought—the longest in the league—while the Giants want to bounce back after a frustrating 7-9 campaign.
Aside from the extra attention due to its high-profile status, the Hall of Fame Game is just like any other preseason contest—the big names won't last long. That said, it's still live football, and there's obviously a major craving for that after a long offseason.
Where: Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio
When: Sunday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
The main source of New York's issues last season was its offense. The Giants were one of just five teams to score less than 300 points. The Eli Manning-led passing game never seemed to find a rhythm, and it didn't have a reliable running game to fall back on.
The Giants didn't completely overhaul the unit. Instead, they are hoping a few additions paired with a new approach on that side of the ball will lead to much better results.
In terms of additions, the Giants added Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams to the backfield. Neither projects as a workhorse, but as a tandem, they should represent an upgrade. Odell Beckham, who's currently dealing with a hamstring injury, was the main arrival in terms of the aerial attack.
Clearly, it's not an offense that's suddenly way more explosive. Rather, the group is slightly more potent than last year and will look to pick up the pace.
Dan Graziano of ESPN passed along comments from Jennings, who said the entire offense can be run using an uptempo, no-huddle approach.
"We have many ways to communicate," he said. "Some of it is verbal, some of it is hand signals and things of that nature. And just being a student of the game, you understand down and distance and what you want to accomplish, and so it becomes second nature after a while."
The Giants defense finished eighth in the league in terms of yards allowed last season. That stat is especially impressive when you consider that the team's offensive struggles placed an even bigger burden on the unit's shoulders.
Along with some help from the offense when it comes to time of possession, the biggest key is getting the pass rush back on track. The Giants finished tied for 25th in sacks with just 34. The effort must start with Jason Pierre-Paul, who had just two sacks in 11 games last season.
As for the Bills, the development of one player will likely make or break their season. That's second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
Yes, football is still a team game, and all three phases need to play reasonably well in order to make a playoff charge. Quarterback is the most important position on the field, though. And questions remain about Manuel's ability to thrive at the professional level.
After a sluggish start to camp, there have been signs of progress recently. Joe Buscaglia of WGR was among those to point out Manuel's improved play:
He also sounds ready to get things started, as the Bills noted:
Manuel completed less than 59 percent of his throws last season to go along with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 games. If he can make tangible progress, the outlook for Buffalo suddenly gets a lot brighter. That's because the offense certainly has enough weapons around him, and the defense should be solid again after ranking 10th last season.
The addition of Sammy Watkins to a unit that also features C.J. Spiller gives the Bills two legitimate game-changers on that side of the ball. Expect the Bills to do everything they can to get the ball in their hands as often as possible in space, whether it be screens or gadget plays.
Defensively, a lot of the success starts up front. The trio of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams doesn't get much hype, but they are as good as the NFL has to offer. The rotation of Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson fills out a very strong line.
The biggest question mark is whether they can replace the production of Kiko Alonso. The linebacker was a tackling machine as a rookie with 159 combined takedowns, but he is likely out for the season after suffering an ACL injury.
Adding Brandon Spikes will help, but unheralded options like Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown must step up for the group to remain in the top 10.
Ultimately, it would be a surprise if any of the starters see the end of the first quarter. The Bills offense may stay out a little longer than the other units as the coaching staff tries to get some extra reps for Manuel, but for the most part, it will be a short outing as they build up to longer stints in other games.
At this stage, the Giants seem like the better overall team, so they get the nod for the prediction. Of course, both coaching staffs would say the result isn't nearly as important as the signs of progress and staying healthy.
Prediction: Giants 20, Bills 13
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