To rest the starters or let them play, that appears to be the big question for the Buffalo Bills heading into Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins. With the #2 seed hanging in the balance with a win, the Bills must balance the roster properly to ensure maximum health but to ensure that they can still win the game. If they do lose and so does the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the Bills still secure the #2 seed. But if the Bills lose and Pittsburgh wins over a hungry Cleveland Browns team, then they secure the #3 seed. I don’t believe it is in Sean McDermott’s DNA to not try and win a game, especially if home-field advantage hangs in the balance.
The roster management will be significantly different from past weeks and we will see more inactives due to preserving health rather than true injuries. This doesn’t mean that everyone will sit, only those that don’t have anything to gain by playing. Below are the injuries and inactives.
TE Reggie Gilliam (knee/hamstring)
Gilliam misses his second straight game with a likely left knee injury in addition to a hamstring injury. He has not practiced over the past two weeks and quietly left the game against the Broncos without a clear mechanism of injury other than having his knee taken out from behind him on a special teams play from which he returned later in the game.
We will have to watch the injury report to see if he begins practicing and returns for the playoffs or whether he gets sent to IR to activate someone else from the practice squad. This would then let the Bills sign others to the practice squad as insurance in case further injuries occur.
WR Cole Beasley (left knee)
Beasley missed the past week of practice as expected due to a left knee injury that forced him to leave the game early in the 4th quarter Monday. I had detailed the possibilities of his knee injury that you can find in my article from Wednesday. To summarize, he could have suffered a contusion to the lateral knee, a quadriceps strain, or a meniscus injury.
My thoughts have not changed from Wednesday and it may be possible that he plays in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but it is far from guaranteed. Looking at recent Bills who have played through meniscus injuries including Kelvin Benjamin and Charles Clay in 2017. Benjamin missed 2 games with his meniscus tear and gutted out the remaining 5 games to the playoffs.
Clay missed 3 total games but 4 weeks total due to having the bye week. His recovery was longer due to requiring surgery to trim the meniscus in order to play and allow his MCL sprain to heal. Both were hot and cold with their production, but let’s face it, Benjamin and Clay are nowhere near the talent level that Beasly possesses.
The Bills could survive the first round game without Beasley, but if he can play, he will try to perform. Practice next week will be telling as to whether he is trending towards playing or if the team is more cautious.
G Jon Feliciano (illness)
Feliciano was a surprise addition to the injury report with illness but practiced in full on Friday and had no game day designation. As long as the illness is not COVID, things happen, and as long as he can play, then there are no worries. I am not certain he plays a lot unless Josh Allen plays. This is a game that the Bills can look at backups or find out if any of their pending free agents are worth re-signing.
TE Reggie Gilliam
WR Cole Beasley
CB Tre’Davious White
C Mitch Morse
WR Stefon Diggs
QB Josh Allen
LB Matt Milano
Outside of Gilliam and Beasley, these inactives are a total guess based on value to the team. To lose Tre’Davious White would be a huge issue and Matt Milano certainly would benefit from being fresh working back from his pectoral injury. While Stefon Diggs did reach his statistical benchmarks for the season for his contract and could rest, Josh Allen is only 40 passing yards from claiming the top spot in Bills history for passing yards. I am sure Allen would want the record, but not if it potentially could mean injury.
Mitch Morse is a smart bet to not play if Allen does not and with his previous concussion this season, to avoid losing him for the playoffs would not be ideal. I would not be surprised if I am wrong on 5/7 picks because Sean McDermott has been coy on if he would rest starters or not. We will know Sunday at 11:30 am as to their plans.
The team does have their two standard practice squad call-ups and protected practice squad players which were used on offensive lineman Trey Adams, Jordan Devey, Jonotthan Harrison, and Darron Lee. They also have a COVID emergency callup which could be used on Dane Jackson or Davis Webb. The team has plenty of options in terms of resting players with the use of practice squad guys if they need.
Other injury thoughts:
We do know that John Brown will finally play for the first time since Week 10 to get reps to be ready for the postseason. He would be one that would benefit from time off, but to get even a half of football in would ensure that he is ready for next weekend. His high ankle sprain should be pretty close to if not fully healed up by now and most of the other injuries he was dealing with should be fairly well managed by now.
The Dolphins are dealing with several injuries for themselves including Jakeem Grant (high ankle), Solomon Kindley (knee/foot), Shaq Lawson (shoulder), and DeVante Parker (hamstring). I would expect all play with the exception of Grant who was reported to miss the game but is currently listed as questionable. Even if he did play, I doubt he would be effective on special teams and offense.
Either way, this is a must-win game for the Dolphins to control their playoff fate. They could still make the playoffs if the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, or Browns lose which could allow them to enter the postseason, but none of those are guaranteed which forces the Dolphins to play for their lives.
I believe the Bills can still win even with most of the starters resting or seeing minimal playing time. If the Bills do lose this game, this could set up the Dolphins to come back up the next week for the Wild Card game if things fall just right. Either way, this will be enjoyable to watch this game knowing there is little to be concerned for as the team prepares for a home playoff game. The pressure to win will increase following 4:30 pm on Sunday but until then, the fanbase can relax and enjoy the game.
Top Photo Credit: ESPN