Giants vs. Bills: The Complete Guide to the 2014 Hall of Fame Game
We all have to admit the NFL is great at putting on a show. Heck, it can make a meaningless first exhibition game look like a spectacle.
We won't care about the winner of Sunday night's Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills (8 p.m. ET on NBC), but we are going to be watching. If you cannot make it to your TV, you can catch it streaming at NBC Sports Live Extra.
The NFL is like pizza: Even when it is bad, it is still pretty good.
This slideshow recaps the reasons why the first exhibition action of 2014 is must-see TV.
Giants and Bills fans get a double dose of viewing pleasure this weekend, already having watched two of their own—Michael Strahan and Andre Reed—be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night. We break down the record-setting 2014 Hall of Fame class in the first of these slides.
Also, we take a look at the year's rule innovations and a high-profile preseason experiment that will be on display for the first time.
The Giants played in the first Hall of Fame Game in 1962, and this is their fifth appearance in the preseason classic (1962, 1972, 1985, 2002). The Bills will play in it for the fourth time in franchise history (1974, 1989, 2009). The two teams also played against each other in Super Bowl XXV, a game in which 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Reed had eight receptions for 62 yards, most of which came in the first half.
Like the NFL versus its Hall of Famers, the game is bigger than its competitors. Still, we preview the notable things fans—especially those fantasy types—will want to pay attention to with regard to NFL debuts and unveiling new offenses, coordinators and offseason acquisitions.
Record-Setting 2014 Hall of Fame Class Inducted Saturday Night
You can debate whether it was New York media hype that got Michael Strahan his induction into the Hall of Fame, but you shouldn't question the combined credentials of this seven-man 2014 class. It is a big one.
They combined for 55 Pro Bowl selections, the most ever by a single Hall of Fame class—Derrick Brooks (11), Walter Jones (nine), Aeneas Williams (eight), Ray Guy (seven), Andre Reed (seven), Michael Strahan (seven), Claude Humphrey (six)—as ESPN's Adam Schefter posted on Facebook this week.
If you are wondering how this class might rank all time, Bleacher Report's Russell Baxter recaps and ranks every class in NFL history. We will tease it and say this class made Baxter's top half. That in itself is a huge compliment to these greats. They are in the greater half of the greatest greats.
B/R didn't stop there with its Hall of Fame retrospectives. You can read up on each of the players right here:
- Derrick Brooks, by Nick Kostos
- Ray Guy, by Christopher Hansen
- Claude Humphrey, by Zach Kruse
- Walter Jones, by Dan Hope
- Andre Reed, by Erik Frenz
- Michael Strahan, by Brad Gagnon
- Aeneas Williams, by Tyson Langland
The following were the presenters for each Hall of Fame inductee from Saturday night:
Former Raiders head coach
Former Bills head coach
Friend and Fox NFL Sunday colleague
Rules Innovations to Be Unveiled Sunday Night
The Hall of Fame Game is more than just the first look at the NFL for the 2014 season. It is also the debut of some rules changes that may or may not be noticeable to casual fans this year. We recap them here, courtesy of the NFL media notes (credential required).
Let's see if they come in to play Sunday night:
The referee will now be able to consult with Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino during replay reviews. In addition, the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play will now be reviewable. This includes fumbles, backward passes and kicks.
All seven game officials will now be able to communicate with each other during NFL games via wireless microphones.
The uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet in previous seasons, to help officials make (more) definitive rulings on field-goal attempts that previously crossed above the top of the uprights.
Teams will be able to deliver pre- and post-snap photos to coaches and players on the sidelines and in the coaching booth via tablets.
We Get a First Look at the Longer Extra-Point Experiment
The NFL is a progressive league. It likes to tinker with things to evolve with the times. The Hall of Fame Game is the first of the preseason action that will feature longer extra-point kicks to make them more interesting.
The NFL will experiment with extra-point attempts by spotting the ball at the 15-yard line. This will be done to gather information regarding possible future changes to make these plays more competitive and exciting for fans. The two-point try will remain at the 2-yard line during this experiment.
Teams will have to declare whether they are going for two for the ball to be spotted properly. This could get interesting.
(The slideshow photo above is the final kick attempt by the Buffalo Bills' Scott Norwood against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV. It, of course, sailed wide right.)
We Gather Strength from Jim Kelly's Tough Fight with Cancer
Jim Kelly has had a tough year in his battle with cancer, but he is on hand to honor 2014 Hall of Famer and former teammate Andre Reed. He brings with him his stories and strength about going through chemotherapy and battling for his own life.
It is something that will hit close to home for us all.
Kelly and fellow Hall of Famer Harry Carson (2006) will be the honorary captains for the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, respectively, and participate in the coin toss. Kelly said in the NFL media notes (credential required):
This year especially, I am so thankful that I can be on hand to share in a great weekend that shines the spotlight on the Buffalo Bills. It is a great honor for me to represent the Bills organization at the coin toss to kick off the season. The entire experience will bring back memories from 2002 when so many of the Bills family—fans, players and staff—joined me in Canton for one of the most memorable times of my life.
First-Rounder Sammy Watkins Makes His NFL Debut
Now we get to the good stuff: Why we actually will watch the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night. We are all fans, and even a meaningless preseason game has things we can't wait to see.
For Sammy Watkins, the No. 4 overall draft pick this May who has said he grew up a Buffalo Bills and Andre Reed fan, this is a special way to make his debut. Per the NFL media notes (credential required):
I'm definitely excited for the opportunity to experience my pro debut at the Hall of Fame Game. It was one of the first things I noticed when I looked at the schedule after being drafted by the Bills. Growing up a Bills fan, the chance to play in Canton on the same weekend that Andre Reed gets inducted into the Hall will be surreal.
Watkins has drawn Calvin Johnson comparisons for his potential impact in the NFL, if not the freakish physical tools. We will get to see Watkins and EJ Manuel work toward building something Jim Kelly and Andre Reed once had and rode all the way to the Hall of Fame.
Watkins has been a star in camp, as many media outlets have reported, including The Sports Xchange.
It will be up to head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to help those two young first-round picks gel. Considering Manuel has made just 10 starts in his brief career, this could be a season of growing pains.
With a large Buffalo contingent on hand for Reed's induction, expect the Bills to give Watkins a significant look Sunday night. They should throw to him at least once in the first drive, if not the first play, so flip the game on early.
New York Giants Work out the Kinks of New West Coast Offense
This hasn't been the smoothest of training camps for the New York Giants, who are trying to break in a new offense under coordinator Ben McAdoo. We won't see much of Eli Manning in it Sunday night, perhaps just one series, but we will get an extended look at McAdoo's scheme and play-calling.
This offense will have to be really efficient if Manning is to come anywhere near his stated goal of completing 70 percent of his passes, as ESPN.com's Dan Graziano reported. Manning told Graziano:
I think guys are just starting to understand the tempo of the offense, the timing of the routes, the kinds of plays we can get into, and I think it's coming faster for the quarterbacks also. We've got to keep working, and I think we're getting more of the install in, but there are still more plays, more concepts to be put in, so we've still got some ways to go.
Manning, specifically, has work to do. He lost Hakeem Nicks and his starting tight end from a year ago, hasn't gotten to work much with first-round rookie Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) and has just a 58.5 career completion percentage. Manning's career-best completion rate was 62.9 percent, which came four years ago. It has dropped every year since down to just 57.5 last season, when he led the NFL with 27 interceptions.
The good news is Manning, McAdoo and the Giants will have five exhibition games instead of the normal four, because they are playing in the Hall of Fame Game a week before the rest of the NFL teams open their preseason.
Head coach Tom Coughlin isn't expected to play his starters much, but he will definitely work McAdoo and the system, he said in the NFL media notes (credential required):
There are five games [on our preseason schedule], and you approach it in different ways when you have five instead of four. But we are going to benefit from this, from more opportunities in our new offense.
Some Other Fantasy-Related Things to Watch Here
This might be the most meaningless game of the NFL season, but that won't stop fantasy football owners from paying attention like it is the Super Bowl. It is what we do: We scout.
Here are some things to watch:
Andre Williams to Get a Lot of Work
New York Giants rookie running back Andre Williams, a fourth-round pick, should get a lot of time after starter and offseason free-agent acquisition Rashad Jennings makes his brief debut. Williams has been working as the goal-line back, as Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News reports.
We might not see Eli Manning drive down to the goal line on the first series, but Williams should get a heavy workload in the game as a featured back. A solid performance can elevate Williams' late-round draft position in fantasy, particularly as David Wilson "needs a miracle"—a source told Jordan Raanan and Conor Orr of NJ.com—to play again after his training camp neck scare.
Mike Williams Makes His Debut
His debut pales in comparison to Sammy Watkins', but he is an interesting addition for the Buffalo Bills and EJ Manuel. Williams is a big target who can be a red-zone threat, particularly with the Bills having issues currently at the tight end position.
Bryce Brown Should be Bills' Workhorse
We once loved Brown as a fantasy sleeper, and this game should feature him heavily, like Williams. The Bills will be judicious with the use of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, so expect to get an extended look at offseason trade acquisition Brown. Spiller and Jackson haven't been pictures of health, and Brown is intriguing. We will get a good look at him here.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.