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Opinion: Buffalo Bills should absolutely rest key starters this weekend

Sean McDermott hasn’t decided yet (publicly). I have.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters on Monday that he hasn’t made up his mind for what he wants to do with his starters this weekend. I can save him some time and lay out all the reasons to sit several key players.

When Buffalo lost on Saturday, they locked in their spot as the five seed in the AFC. They can’t climb into the top four because they aren’t a division winner and they can’t fall below the logjam around the six seed. There is nothing to play for against the New York Jets.

“I just think overall, it’s about us improving as a football team,” said McDermott about the team’s effort in Week 17. “We certainly respect the Jets and the opponents this week, but it’s everything we do—as you guys know you’ve sat in this room, stood in this room before—it’s about us improving as a football team.”

After three straight physical games, improving as a football team means getting everybody right. While quarterback Josh Allen may not be listed on the injury report, he’s been hit a lot over the last three weeks. Matt Barkley should get the start Sunday.

“I mean there’s certainly a lot of things to consider,” said McDermott Monday. “A lot of things for Brian [Daboll] and myself to weigh. Some of it is the injuries, some of it is us improving as a football team. So, we’re still working through that and then the team’s not in today so we’ll be back tomorrow. So, we’ll continue to work through that as a team and go from there.”

The most obvious decision is to rest center Mitch Morse, who left the game against the New England Patriots with an ankle injury. He needs to be as close to 100% as he can be and shouldn’t see the field at all against the Jets. That would be the only offensive line change I would make this week. Jon Feliciano slides over to center, Spencer Long moves into the lineup at right guard, Cody Ford stays at right tackle, Dion Dawkins holds down the fort at left tackle, and Quinton Spain is your left guard. Ike Boettger should be active instead of Morse and could sub in at guard as the game wears on while Ryan Bates could step in at left tackle. Bates has been active since Ty Nsekhe’s injury.

Around the rest of the offense, I would make T.J. Yeldon active and roll him out as the starter with Frank Gore seeing limited time. Gore didn’t get a carry this past week but that should change on Sunday. Devin Singletary and his increased workload have to be close to the rookie wall even considering his early-season injury kept him off the field.

The tight ends should stay chalk. Keep Dawson Knox on the field to continue learning and the rest of the veterans aren’t valuable enough at the position.

For wide receivers, the Duke Williams brigade should be satiated this week and I expect Williams to play a lot and maybe even start alongside Robert Foster. Isaiah McKenzie and Andre Roberts could see play counts tick up, as well. John Brown and Cole Beasley are too important to expose them to hamstring injuries and dings.

“I’ve been a part of resting guys before,” said McDermott about his previous experience with the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles. “I’ve watched other teams having played their guys, so I’ve been around some of it before. And you’re always going to get second-guessed and some people are going to be with you, some people are going to be in terms of, hey you should be doing this versus what they’re doing, or I agree with what they’re doing. And certainly, that’s what happens. And so, we have to do what we feel this is best for this team and we’ll do that. I’m confident we’ve done that to this point.”

Switching gears to the defense, Shaq Lawson and Corey Liuget have both been dealing with minor injuries. It shouldn’t be hard to get them some rest this week with Darryl Johnson Jr. and Vincent Taylor champing at the bit for increased playing time.

Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal, and Kurt Coleman should see extended time in the secondary while Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, and Taron Johnson take a back seat. Tre’Davious White should not play at all, allowing Kevin Johnson and Levi Wallace to hold down the fort on the outside.

At the linebacker position, Buffalo wouldn’t have to do much active roster juggling as the backup linebackers play a ton of special teams. Julian Stanford and Corey Thompson should see a sharp uptick in defensive snaps over Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano.

It’s not every starter that is going to be able to sit out on Sunday, but a big chunk of them should rest and heal while most of the remaining starters see reduced workloads.