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Five things to watch in tonight's Hall of Fame Game

Finally! Finally, tonight we play football.

Congratulations! You made it through the bitterness of offseason doldrums without completely losing all your faculties. Your reward comes at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, when a sanctioned NFL football game will be played for the first time since February.

Before you slide down into your recliner to the soothing, dulcet sounds of Al Michaels, we have five things to watch for during Sunday night's Pro Football Hall of Fame Game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.

Giants' new offense under Ben McAdoo


The talk of the offseason in Big Blue country has been the importing of Ben McAdoo from Green Bay and the effect that his quick-pass scheme will have on Eli Manning -- uber-Giants fan Jon Stewart even brought it up on The Daily Show last week, for cryin' out loud. Keep an eye out for short, quick throws that get the ball out of Eli's hands promptly and help edge that completion percentage upward.

Starters rarely play more than a series or two in the HOF Game, but even when Manning and the first-stringers sit, it will be worth keeping an eye on McAdoo's offense. The coordinator has never called plays, so this will be his first time truly under fire. McAdoo's play selection and mechanics will be something to monitor throughout the preseason -- luckily for the Giants, they get five of them this year.

The debut of Sammy Watkins


Oh, Billy. It seems like we could have written a "Sammy Watkins is amazing" post every single day since the start of training camp. The optimism and flattery surrounding the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft have been overwhelming. Watkins' combination of size, speed, agility and phenomenal hands is made for today's NFL game.

Not to toss too much water on the fun, but, despite all the kind words, we still have not seen the receiver in an actual game situation. Tonight will give us the first glimpse of a player the Bills' brass believes is one of the NFL's premier pass-catchers -- the Galvatron to Calvin Johnson's Megatron, if you will.

EJ Manuel's mastery of the offense


The training wheels are off in Doug Marrone's offense, and Manuel must prove he can take the handlebars and drive the Bills consistently.

The second-year quarterback has said he's made strides in the new offense. Now is his chance to prove it.

When healthy last season, he was inconsistent and often didn't even give his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball. This year, his rapport with second-year receiver Robert Woods should help him, as will Watkins being unleashed.

If for nothing more than confidence's sake, Manuel needs a solid-to-good performance in whatever time he gets tonight.

Giants' revamped backfield


David Wilson is out, and it doesn't appear that he'll be coming back anytime soon -- if ever. That leaves the Giants' backfield with a plethora of plodders and sledgehammers.

Rashad Jennings was signed in the offseason to be the starter. He will likely carry the load after showing flashes last season as a part-time starter in Oakland.

Behind Jennings sit the bigger question marks.

During last season's game against the Vikings, Carl Banks had this to say about Peyton Hillis: "Hillis, in the open field, looks like he's carrying an ice wagon." That sounds about right. Michael Cox is a similar sledgehammer.

It will be interesting to see how much time rookie Andre Williams gets. He's been running in a lot of the goal-line packages during training camp and should get more chances during the preseason. He came into the NFL as a woeful pass-catcher, so we want to see if he has improved in that area -- if so, he could end up eventually being the primary backup.

Buffalo's new D sans the legend of Kiko Alonso


If you considered crying after hearing that Kiko Alonso would be out for the season with an ACL tear, fear not -- you weren't alone.

The dynamic playmaker was one of the most fun defenders to watch last season. He was slotted to play the weak side in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's scheme. That combination would have allowed Alonso to wreck havoc on offenses.

Now, we will have to settle with seeing how Schwartz compensates for the loss of Alonso -- and if Nigel Bradham's recent one-game suspension changes those plans.

When the Bills' defensive line is all healthy and on the field, they can be devastating, which is the key to Schwartz's defense. They are going up against a revamped Giants offensive line that struggled mightily last year. Even so, if the Bills' D-line displays that it will be getting violent pressure consistently Sunday night, we won't worry as much about the losses in the back seven.

Final thought


As with every preseason game, pray for no injuries. There is nothing worse than seeing a player lose his season -- or his job -- in a preseason game.

The latest Around The League Podcast breaks down Marshawn Lynch's belated arrival at Seahawks camp and debates which active NFL players are first-ballot locks for the Hall of Fame.

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