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Five Buffalo Bills backups to watch against the New York Jets

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Sure, the starters will play...but I’m more interested in the backups this week

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills host the New York Jets in a meaningless-for-records Week 17 game this Sunday. For the Jets, the game means nothing because they’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs. For the Bills, the game is meaningless because they’re already locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC Playoff field.

While some fans, myself included, wanted to see head coach Sean McDermott rest his starters this week, that won’t happen. McDermott announced that the healthy starters will all play, though he did not say for how long. He did say that the coaches would enter some backups into the game who either normally wouldn’t play or who wouldn’t normally play much.

As a result, it’s hard to nail down a true list of players to watch for the week; however, my focus is on the backups. Here are the five players I’ll be most interested to see this week.


QB Matt Barkley

Yes, McDermott said that starter Josh Allen will play. I certainly hope he doesn’t play long—I’d be fine with one series consisting of handoffs to Patrick DiMarco—so I’ll be interested to see how Barkley looks in extended action. In his only start for Buffalo, Barkley torched these same Jets last season, leading the Bills to a 41-10 victory at MetLife Stadium. In that game, Barkley completed 15-of-25 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He has appeared in one game this season, coming on in the fourth quarter of Buffalo’s 16-10 loss to the New England Patriots in September. Barkley completed 9-of-16 passes for 127 yards and an interception in the loss. He should have plenty of time to work this week against a solid Jets defense.

RB T.J. Yeldon

I don’t want rookie Devin Singletary to set foot on the field this week. I don’t even really want veteran Frank Gore to carry much of the load. I’d rather the Bills ride Yeldon, whose prowess as a receiver should help against what should be a solid pass rush. Yeldon has ten receptions for 100 yards in extremely limited duty this year, and I expect him to add to that total this week. It wouldn’t shock me to see Senorise Perry carry the ball a few times, as well, but as a full-fledged Yeldon supporter, I’d like to see him have the chance to play well this week to show that he has a role in the squad in 2020.

WR Duke Williams

If Yeldon isn’t Buffalo’s leading receiver on Sunday, then it’s a good bet that Williams will be the leader instead. With Buffalo’s receiving corps lacking something over the last few weeks, namely a big target who can win contested catches, this week should provide Williams another opportunity to show that he can help. Isaiah McKenzie has cemented a role as the No. 3 receiver in recent weeks, but the Bills haven’t been afraid to change personnel at the position since McDermott, Brandon Beane and company arrived. If Williams balls out on Sunday, it could go a long way towards having him active for the Wild Card round.

DE Darryl Johnson

With Shaq Lawson unlikely to play this week thanks to a hamstring injury, Johnson should see a big increase in playing time. The seventh-round rookie looked disruptive during the preseason, and he began the year playing an average of 20 snaps per game. After the Bills were thumped by the Philadelphia Eagles, Johnson’s snaps have all but disappeared. He’s only played on a total of 24 snaps during the last eight games, as Buffalo has gone with a veteran trio of Lawson, Jerry Hughes, and Trent Murphy. Johnson should have a chance at earning his second career sack on Sunday against Sam Darnold.

S Jaquan Johnson

This is speculation, but I’m willing to bet that Johnson sees some defensive snaps this week in place of either Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer. That would be big for Johnson, as the rookie has yet to take a snap on defense this year. He has established himself as one of Buffalo’s core special teams players, but it would be nice to see how he looks in the defense, as well. This week is a chance to see it with no true consequences.