2014 Hall of Fame Game: Camp Storylines That Will Dominate the Preseason Opener

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2014

2014 Hall of Fame Game: Camp Storylines That Will Dominate the Preseason Opener

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Now Norwood tries to kick his longest ever on grass, 47 yards. Eight seconds left. Adam Linger will snap it. No good, wide right!

    The New York Giants and Buffalo Bills have a history worthy of the Hall of Fame game, one Bills fans would rather forget.

    Scott Norwood’s fateful failed field-goal attempt in Super Bowl XXV didn’t exactly send the two franchises in divergent directions—the Bills would go on to three more consecutive Super Bowl appearances, after all—but the past decade has seen the Giants win two Super Bowls and the Bills build on their streak of missing the playoffs. (The streak now stands at 15 consecutive seasons.)

    The two teams meet in this year's Hall of Fame game to open up the 2014 preseason.

    As much as the Hall of Fame is about the past, the Hall of Fame game is about the future. Two teams meet in the first game of the preseason, ushering football once again after a long offseason.

    What are some of the storylines surrounding the two teams heading into the matchup as training camp rolls around? That is, besides the fact they will be selling beer at the annual Canton event for the first time.

    Click through to find out.

Will the Real C.J. Spiller Please Stand Up?

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Back in 2012, it looked like Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller was gearing up to go nuclear. He averaged an eye-popping 6.0 yards per carry in a timeshare with Fred Jackson that year, and it looked like he was going to take over the lead back role in 2013.

    The new coaching staff under head coach Doug Marrone famously vowed to run him until he vomited a year ago, tickling the fancies of Bills fans and fantasy owners alike.

    Unfortunately, injuries, regression and poor offensive line play conspired to sink his season, and Spiller enters training camp with Jackson still around on top of newcomer Bryce Brown, whom the Bills traded for during the draft.

    Spiller should beat those two out for the starting job and the majority of snaps if he can stay healthy. He will need to watch his back in training camp, however. If he disappoints and Jackson is his usual steady self—even if he is steadily in decline—or Brown impresses, Spiller may have a fight on his hands.

    It’s unlikely we see much action from these three in the Hall of Fame game, but it will be interesting to see what comes of the preseason in the Bills backfield.

Could This Be Tom Coughlin's Swan Song?

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    We haven’t seen much chatter about Giants head coach Tom Coughlin retiring any time soon, but could the Hall of Fame game be the beginning of his march into the sunset?

    Coughlin will be 68 by the time the regular season rolls around, easily the oldest head coach in the league. He is six years older than the next-oldest head coach—Pete Carroll, against whom which Coughlin looks 15 years older—and the league is getting younger around him.

    For his part, Coughlin has no outward intention of retiring, per NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan:

    Coughlin's not retiring. He doesn't even have a number in his mind for when he sees himself having enough.

    "What else am I going to do?" Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL Meetings. "I feel good. I feel healthy. (My wife) Judy is good towards it. My family is positive and supporting."

    These days, retirement is such a taboo topic, Coughlin probably would rather talk about his chances at the Hall of Fame, though that's not a subject he enjoys discussing much, either. 

    So maybe Coughlin has at least a few years left in him. But does that mean the Giants will let him stay that long?

    If they get off to another 0-6 start this season, Coughlin’s Super Bowl victories may not be enough to save him. It all begins with the Hall of Fame game, though the real bullets fly in September.

Is Sammy Watkins the Real Deal?

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    The Bills haven’t exactly been an offensive powerhouse for the past decade or so. They made a bold move toward creating one when they traded up to draft Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, trading starting Stevie Johnson away to clear a path in the process.

    The question is whether it was a wise one.

    The Clemson product was arguably the best receiver in the draft, but is he enough of an all-world talent to be worthy of the assets the Bills traded away to draft him? After all, at 6'1", 205 pounds, he doesn't have the prototypical size of a No. 1 receiver.

    The answer lies ahead, and we will get a teaser in the preseason and, perhaps, the Hall of Fame Game.

    Watkins is a dynamic player, to be sure, and he could well help transform the Bills offense into a great one. The Bills obviously saw enough to warrant the future first-round investment they made in him.

Will David Wilson Revive His Career?

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    It has been a rough year for running back David Wilson.

    The Giants running back was primed for a big sophomore season after flashing his potential as a rookie, when he averaged a healthy 5.0 yards per carry. Unfortunately, a case of déjà vu turned out to be a bad omen for a lost season and a career that's in jeopardy.

    Wilson opened up the 2013 season with two lost fumbles against the rival Dallas Cowboys, a year after he fumbled his way into head coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse against the very same team. Five weeks later, Wilson’s season was cut short by a neck injury that proved career threatening, and he has been unable to get clearance for contact ever since.

    That clearance is coming soon, according to Giants general manager Jerry Reese. When it does, Wilson will find himself in a contentious battle with new free-agent running back Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams.

    It's unlikely Wilson will see much action, if any at all, in the Hall of Fame game, given how long he has been away from the field, but his health and potential will be a big topic of conversation for Giants fans and fantasy football owners throughout the preseason.

How Will the Bills Fare Without Jairus Byrd?

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Bills defense was pretty good last season, particularly against the pass. They were second in sacks and fourth in pass defense last season.

    A big reason for their defensive success is no longer with the team, however. Safety Jairus Byrd had been among the best at his position over the past few seasons for the Bills—rated in the top 10 at his position by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in each of the past three years, for example.

    But Byrd flew the coop, taking a massive contract with the New Orleans Saints and leaving behind a gaping hole in Buffalo's secondary in the process.

    The quest to replace him begins in training camp, with Da’Norris Searcy, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks likely vying for the starting gig. The Hall of Fame Game should give us our first good look at this particulat positional battle.

    With three guys vying for one spot, one or more of them may see more playing time than a typical starter would in the first preseason game of the year.

Will Odell Beckham Jr. Live Up to His Draft Status?

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The passing game in New York was abysmal last season. While much of that might fall on quarterback Eli Manning, his skill players left something to be desired.

    Specifically, his receivers were a disappointing lot. Hakeem Nicks was finally healthy, but he looked washed up. That is likely the biggest reason the Giants didn’t make a serious play to keep him. Victor Cruz wasn’t much better, a big disappointment two years after his breakout season.

    There wasn’t much to see behind those two, with Rueben Randle struggling to gain traction in his second season.

    With Nicks gone and a hos of uncertainty at the position, the Giants selected Randle’s former LSU teammate, Odell Bekcham Jr., in the first round of the 2014 draft.

    Beckham is a bit of a Cruz clone, however, so it will be interesting to see how he fits into the Giants offense. Can he help revive that passing offense and be a trusted weapon for Manning? We might get an extended preview in the Hall of Fame game.