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NFL Hall of Fame Game Preview - NY Giants (0-0) vs. Buffalo (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Canton, OH (Sports Network) - The Empire State will be the featured player when the NFL's past meets its present this weekend.
The New York Giants and Buffalo Bills will kick off the 2014 preseason in the 51st Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
The Hall of Fame Game is one of the signature events of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Enshrinement Festival that takes place over the weekend. Seven new members will be welcomed into the institution on Saturday, with linebacker Derrick Brooks, offensive tackle Walter Jones, wide receiver Andre Reed, cornerback Aeneas Williams, punter Ray Guy and defensive ends Michael Strahan and Claude Humphrey making up the 2014 class.
"This is a wonderfully spectacular tradition, one of the greatest in all of sports," said Hall of Fame president David Baker. "Nowhere can fans see so many of the greatest heroes of the game in one place at one time. There's no better way to kick off the NFL's 95th season."
Two of this year's inductees have connections to the teams in the HOF Game. Strahan was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time All-Pro with the Giants after being drafted by the club in the second-round of the 1993 NFL Draft out of Texas Southern. The Houston native was a dominant pass rusher, amassing an NFL single-season record 22 1/2 sacks in 2001 and finishing with 141 1/2 over his career.
Reed, meanwhile, developed into the most prolific receiver in Bills history after being taken in the fourth round of the 1985 draft out of Kutztown State. His 941 career receptions remain a Buffalo team record as are his 13,095 career receiving yards and 36 100-yard receiving games. A four-time All-AFC choice, Reed was also selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
"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," said Bills legendary Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who is currently battling cancer and will serve as honorary captain and participate in the pregame coin toss along with ex-Giants HOF linebacker Harry Carson. "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."
The current versions of the Giants and Bills could certainly use a few more players like Strahan, Reed and Kelly.
Two Super Bowl titles will get you a lot of things in the NFL and one of them is the benefit of the doubt. Many just assume highly-regarded Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is on the precipice of turning things around with "Big Blue" but a more logical look at the team's talent level points to a far darker outcome.
The offensive line was truly offensive for the Giants in 2013 as quarterback Eli Manning produced more turnovers than your local bakery. Meanwhile, New York's running game put up the franchise's worst numbers since 1945.
Underrated free agent guard Geoff Schwartz should help, but Manning and whomever plays running back, whether it be free agent pickup Rashad Jennings, holdovers Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and David Wilson, or rookie Andre Williams, will be toiling behind one of pro football's worst blocking units again, especially after veteran Chris Snee was forced into retirement in July.
After missing the final 13 games of the 2013 season due to a torn labrum in his right hip, Snee had offseason elbow surgery and was unable to recover.
"It's a physical game and it has to be played up front, it has to be technically sound, and you must be able to physically be in the position where you are making the blocks," Coughlin said. "We have always put tremendous stock on what is up front with our offensive line."
Defensively the Giants took a major hit when starting middle linebacker Jon Beason went down with a ligament tear and a small fracture in his right foot during OTAs. Beason said a return by the team's Sept. 8 opener at Detroit is within the timeframe of his recovery period but that's being awfully optimistic.
"I expect to be back," said Beason, who was hurt defending a pass play. "If not, I'll be back as soon as I can."
The team did improve significantly in the defensive backfield, however, after adding veteran cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond. DRC arrives from Denver to give the Giants a pure cover guy with excellent ball skills and should team with Prince Amukamara and Thurmond to give the Giants the best CB group in the defensively-challenged NFC East.
For Buffalo the passing of legendary owner Ralph Wilson put the Bills' long- term future in western New York in play and that will remain the biggest story surrounding the franchise.
That said, when you talk about Buffalo on the field, continuity is desperately needed. With Mike Pettine moving on to be the head coach in Cleveland, the Bills brought in their fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons, Jim Schwartz.
The former Lions head man, Schwartz will be shifting the team from an attacking 3-4 to a wide-nine 4-3 front, a questionable tactic because Buffalo actually led the AFC in both sacks (57) and interceptions (23) under Pettine.
Making things more difficult is the fact that star second-year linebacker Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL while working out in Oregon in the offseason and will likely miss the entire 2014 campaign.
"Unfortunately (Kiko) suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and will most likely miss the 2014 season," GM Doug Whaley said. "We feel badly for Kiko because he has worked very hard this offseason in preparation for the upcoming season, but we look forward to his return with his style of play that made him one of the league's outstanding rookies in 2013."
Offensively for the Bills, it's all about growing with second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel, who will certainly enjoy his new toy, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick in May's draft.
"He has gotten so much more comfortable," Bills offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett said when discussing Manuel. "Everyday he's getting better and better."
"I'm definitely excited for the opportunity to experience my pro debut at the Hall of Fame Game," added Watkins. "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."
This year's HOF Game will also debut a series of innovations that fans will see during the 2014 regular season including a revamped instant replay system in which the on-field referee will be able to consult with the league's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, during replay reviews, a change that should resulting much-needed continuity.
In addition, the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play will now be reviewable and the uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet in previous seasons, to help officials make definitive rulings on field-goal attempts that previously crossed above the top of the uprights.
Additionally, for the Hall of Fame Game and the first two weeks of the preseason, the NFL will experiment with extra point attempts by spotting the ball at the 15-yard line for extra-point kick attempts.
This marks the Giants fifth appearance in the Hall of Fame Game, with the last one coming in 2002. New York is 2-1-1 in Canton and played in the inaugural Hall of Fame Game in 1962, tying the St. Louis Cardinals 21-21. The Giants next appearance came in 1972, when they lost, 23-17, to the Kansas City Chiefs. New York earned its first victory in 1985 when they defeated the Houston Oilers, 21-20. In their most recent visit in '02, the Giants defeated the expansion Houston Texans, 34-17.
Buffalo has made three previous appearances in the HOF Game but has never won in Canton, losing to the Cardinals in 1974, the Washington Redskins in 1989 and the Tennessee Titans in 2009.
This is the fifth preseason matchup between the Giants and Bills with "Big Blue" holding a 3-1 advantage in the previous meetings. In their last preseason meeting, the Giants defeated Buffalo, 23-17, in the old Giants Stadium on Aug. 5, 1991. In the regular season, the Bills hold a slight series lead, 6-5.
The teams last faced each other on neutral turf in Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, where Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, clinching a 20-19 Giants victory.
07/31 17:36:33 ET
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