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It’s no fantasy: It’s time to get serious about the NFL

Talk about too much information.

Last week, I skimmed the magazine rack at Wegmans and counted 14 fantasy football guides for sale. Like NFL passing stats, the numbers seem to go up every year. It’s enough to make you think fantasy has become as big as the real thing.

“Oh, way bigger!” said my 17-year-old son, Jack, whose overzealous buddies actually scheduled a fantasy draft for Sunday.

Whatever the case, the proliferation of fantasy mags reminds me that NFL training camps are getting underway, and that the nation’s great weekly sporting spectacle is upon us. The Bills open training camp this Friday. The regular-season opener against the Colts is seven weeks from today.

Nowadays, it seems the NFL never really shuts down. Whatever it takes – a draft, a ball inflation scandal, a coach’s arrest over stolen beach chairs – the sport always seems to be in the news. It’s stories, not stats, that sustain the true NFL fan.

There’s no lack of story lines in the league these days. We’re still waiting for someone to blink in the Deflategate scandal. Roger Goodell is supposedly offering Tom Brady a reduction in his suspension. The word is, Brady will sue the league rather than accept any sort of suspension. Something has to give.

Goodell can’t look soft to the owners, but Brady is a tough competitor who knows the NFL would rather not go to court. It wouldn’t surprise me if Brady copped to not fully cooperating with the investigation and got his suspension cut to one game. One way or another, I expect him to play here against the Bills in Week Two.

Will Russell Wilson sign his new contract and be in Seahawks camp? Seattle is said to be offering a deal in the $21 million-a-year range. But Wilson is holding out and says he’ll play out the year at $1.5 million if a deal isn’t struck by Friday. The Seahawks are looking to become the first team since the Bills to reach three straight Super Bowls.

Adrian Peterson is back with the Vikings after missing almost all of last season for beating his son with a stick. Peterson has promised to “shock the world.” He’ll be pocketing $12.75 million for his trouble, so Minnesota had better hope its superstar running back returns at peak form after turning 30 over the winter.

The Bills, meanwhile, are a virtual Canterbury Tales. No team in the NFL has as many compelling story lines. I haven’t been this eager for a training camp since Drew Bledsoe came to town in 2002. Bills fans, who set a record for season-ticket sales, apparently share the enthusiasm.

Here are the five biggest stories I’ll be watching in training camp – any one of which could be the dominant theme in an ordinary summer:

• The quarterbacks: It’s hardly unusual for the Bills to have uncertainty at the most important position. But it’s hard to remember a time when there was so much at stake, with subpar quarterback play threatening to undermine a roster seemingly capable of making a playoff run.

It’s so bad, there’s been speculation that either EJ Manuel or Matt Cassel might not make the team. A recent ESPN poll of league coaches and personnel men ranked Cassel as the 31st-best QB in the league. Several of the experts couldn’t believe the Bills would make Cassel the starter. Rex Ryan can’t fiddle around. Assuming Tyrod Taylor doesn’t turn into Steve Young and Cassel performs at a predictably uninspiring level, Ryan should give Manuel the job and find out once and for all if EJ is capable of being a franchise guy. Otherwise, they might as well cut him.

• The offensive line: Would you have imagined that the O-line coach would be a bigger problem than Richie Incognito? Five days before the start of camp, the Bills still hadn’t decided what to do with offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who was accused of punching a minor and threatening the kid’s family during a squabble about beach chairs.

The O-line was a big problem last year. They appeared to be making progress under Kromer. But they should move on from Kromer. Last December, as offensive coordinator, he tearfully apologized to the entire Bears team after criticizing quarterback Jay Cutler to a reporter. Clearly, the guy is a loose cannon. The Pegulas need to take a stand here.

• More Shady dealings: LeSean McCoy is an engaging personality who isn’t afraid to make waves. But Bills management must be eager for “Shady” to begin training camp, where he can make noise on the field instead of on social media.

McCoy made more national news Thursday on Instagram by posting an invitation to a private party in Philadelphia. The invite was for women only, who were supposed to sign a confidentiality agreement.

McCoy removed the post after the Bills informed him he had violated protocol by using the team logo.

The more pressing issue is whether McCoy will justify the $9.7 million cap hit and the trade that sent Kiko Alonso to the Eagles. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan uses him in camp and how McCoy clicks with this offensive line.

McCoy also needs to regain his juice as a receiver. Last season, he caught only 28 passes for a 5.5 average – after averaging 54 catches for 7.8 yards his first five years in Philly.

• The linebacking corps: The Bills are solid at the starting inside spots with Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown. But they’re not deep and it remains to be seen how they’ll stack up against the run with run-stuffing specialist Brandon Spikes no longer around. Ryan is renowned for his creative defenses and his fondness for versatile, hard-hitting linebackers. It’ll be interesting to see what he has in store with this group.

• Rex in charge: Let’s face it, everyone has been looking forward to Ryan’s first training camp since the day he arrived and started talking about building a bully. The action at training camp figures to be loud, lively and even a little contentious at times. Ryan’s daily sessions with the media will add to the entertainment. Imagine what a story it’ll be if he actually wins.


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