Bills vs. Giants: Storylines to Watch in Pro Football Hall of Fame Game 2014

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Bills vs. Giants: Storylines to Watch in Pro Football Hall of Fame Game 2014
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

If the NFL was going for a matchup that would garner intrigue and a collective eye roll at the same time when it decided the Buffalo Bills would take on the New York Giants in the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, then hats off to those in the league office in New York.

There are two sides to every coin, multiple ways to skin a cat and a host of phrases that apply to this one.

On one hand, it is going to be great to just watch football. As an added caveat, we will get to see new faces like Sammy Watkins in their first taste of live action at the pro level.

Flip it around, though. This is the Bills and the Giants. Buffalo went 6-10 for the third straight year last season. New York, led by turnover-happy Eli Manning, finished 7-9.

But alas. The extra preseason work for both teams will help in the long run, and for fans, it is a chance to kick back and enjoy the show. Here is how to do that, plus what to dial in on as the contest unfolds.

 

2014 Hall of Fame Game Information

When: Sunday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio

Watch: NBC

Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

 

Storylines to Watch

Life After Jairus Byrd

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

Jairus Byrd fled to New Orleans this offseason, and the reasons are rather obvious. Cash. A Rob Ryan defense. Super Bowl aspirations. Non-Buffalo weather.

With him went a major reason the Bills were able to have the fourth-best pass defense last year, and in his place is a not-so-appealing group of names tasked with making up the difference.

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

At the age of 24, it is Aaron Williams who leads the way a year removed from ranking as the No. 29 overall safety in the league, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). But he played in just 14 games and will now have to produce without Byrd next to him and adjust to playing free safety.

On the strong side, Da'Norris Searcy appears to be the starter, although he was simply a blitz-heavy rotational player a season ago. Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks appear to be in the hunt for the gig, but they have one year of pro experience apiece and a combined nine tackles.

So perhaps things are worse than most could have thought upon first pass. The line in front of the secondary remains elite, but how the Byrd-less unit reacts when the rush cannot apply pressure quick enough remains to be seen.

The first look happens Sunday.

 

The New York Backfield

Let's face it, this was going to be a topic of discussion one way or another.

After a tumultuous two years for David Wilson, the unit was sure to be a spotlight no matter what, but things are even worse now that there seems to be a possibility he may never hit the field again, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano:

David Wilson's latest neck injury has raised significant concerns for the New York Giants, as a source close to the situation told ESPN.com on Thursday that the team would be very surprised if the running back played for them again.

The source said it would take some unexpectedly good news from Wilson's surgeon on Monday to convince the Giants that it's OK for their 2012 first-round pick to return to action.

Suffice it to say, the backfield is now on a trial by fire more than ever.

Rashad Jennings, who spent last year with the Oakland Raiders and was the backup behind Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville for years before that, figures to get the lion's share of the totes with Wilson out of the picture. He was quietly effective last season with 163 rushes for 733 yards and six scores on a 4.5 average.

"I think we have some talented guys at that spot," Tom Coughlin said, per Dave Hutchinson of NJ.com. "I think Rashad has done well. I think the young kid (Williams) has come along the more we have given him to do. Michael Cox has had his spots.

Behind Jennings is the rookie Coughlin hints at, Andre Williams out of Boston College. He's a bruiser at 5'11" and 230 pounds, and even before Wilson's injury, he was running with the first team in goal-line situations. If his collegiate numbers are any indication, he is a back who gains steam the more he is fed:

YEAR ATT YDS AVG LNG TD
2010 95 461 4.9 59 2
2011 124 517 4.2 69 4
2012 130 584 4.5 99 4
2013 355 2177 6.1 80 18

ESPN

Michael Cox is another name scrapping for playing time, something he did rather unsuccessfully last season as a rookie, rarely beating out Peyton Hillis for carries on his way to just 22 attempts all season long.

Speaking of Hillis, the former Madden cover boy is now 28 years old and tallied just a 3.4-yard average last year on his way to 247 yards and two scores. As it stands now, he is the next man in line behind Jennings, as Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News illustrates:

So, in a way, not much has changed in the New York backfield since last season, as a hodgepodge of names look to distance themselves from the pack. Should Wilson return, he both makes things better and more convoluted, if that makes sense.

In short, both teams were the perfect choice for a fifth preseason game. Any two would have done, but at least Buffalo and New York actually have a lot to gain from a contest most fans would consider irrelevant.

It most certainly is not.

 

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