The day has finally come. Football has officially returned. And at 8:00 PM EST tonight, the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills will kickoff the 2014 NFL season in Canton, Ohio as part of the annual Hall of Fame Game.
Each team enters 2014 with a wide variety of questions, but the hope that they each, finally, are able to return to the playoffs. And on the heels of some of their all-time great superstars being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Bills and Giants re-introduce us to the greatest game on earth.
What to Watch For:
- New-Look Offense – What Ben McAdoo has in store for Big Blue and how Eli Manning will adapt to his new-look offense will encompass the vast majority of Sunday night's spotlight. Just how up-tempo will the offense be? How far have they come in their progress and comfort? How will players from top to bottom perform in an entirely new system? The whole story won't be told in one game, but it will certainly be a start in answering some of those questions.
- Tight Ends/Fullbacks There's been a lot of speculation about whether or not the Giants will carry a fullback in 2014 (something Tom Coughlin says they will), but one thing is for certain: the tight ends play an exceptionally important role in Ben McAdoo's new offense. We'll likely get an insight into exactly how much tonight.
- Defensive Tackles – Initially it was going to be all about how Johnathan Hankins stepped up and replaced Linval Joseph, but Sunday night offers yet another chance for Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn to shine. Quietly, this battle is turning out to be one of the best of training camp/preseason.
- Return Men – Trindon Holliday and David Wilson are out, so who steps up in their place? Will it be Jerrell Jernigan? Will Quintin Demps pull of double-return duty? Most importantly of all, have the Giants found some answers on Special Teams and, most specifically, in their return game?
- Rookies – There are a lot of rookies — some drafted and others undrafted — who are currently battling for a job. Tonight gives them their very first opportunity to not only play in an NFL game, but to show fans and coaches exactly what they're made of and what they can do when they're hitting someone other than their own teammates.
Five Players to Watch:
- Linebacker Devon Kennard – This young rookie linebacker has seen his stock skyrocket in recent weeks, leading many to wonder if the hype is a bit too much. With full pads on and someone of the opposing team to hit, we're poised to find out if his impressive success on the practice field can translate to the playing field.
- Tight End Larry Donnell – For the longest time the tight ends appeared in a deadlock with no one standing out above the rest. That changed this past week when Donnell finally took some steps to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Now it's time to see what part — and just how large it is — he plays in Ben McAdoo's new offense.
- Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul – Coming off of multiple injuries in 2013, JPP recently declared himself "110%" and is hungry to prove both his doubters and critics wrong. Even if only for a single series, the Hall of Fame Game gives Pierre-Paul an opportunity to remind everyone why he was once on his way to being one of the league's elite pass rushers.
- Quarterback Eli Manning – Coming off a career-worst season in 2013, perhaps no one is criticized and questioned more heavily than Eli Manning. Now in a West Coast-style offense that aims to increase his competition percentage to upwards of 70%, Manning has a chance to redefine himself and his game in an offense that may be more uniquely suited to help him excel.
- Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – After considering retirement prior to the Super Bowl, DRC gets a fresh start in New York and has been handed the keys to the No. 1 job at cornerback. He'll get his first chance to show General Manager Jerry Reese & Co. they made a smart investment when he lines up across from much-hyped rookie Sammy Watkins.
There's only one question left to ask… Are you ready for some football?
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Tags: Buffalo, Buffalo Bills, Devon Kennard, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Manning, Football, Jason Pierre-Paul, Larry Donnell, New York, New York Giants, NFL