Tomorrow evening, the Buffalo Bills will host the Detroit Lions in each team's preseason finale, bringing to a merciful end an extended exhibition season that has played a part in the team turning a bit ornery over the last several weeks.
Before the games start to count, however, the team must finalize its 53-man roster - and tomorrow night's preseason finale will, of course, play a role in helping the Bills' decision-making brass finalize its decisions. Let's sweep through the team's 75-man roster to take a guess at what we know, and what we don't, heading into the final weekend of the preseason.
Where are the Bills settled?
Three positions come to mind: quarterback, running back, and cornerback.
"No," you're probably incredulously shouting at your display, "the Bills are most definitely not settled at quarterback, you insane homer. I am going to irresponsibly and creepily stalk-slash-troll you on Twitter now for saying that." Well, true, no they're not. But "settled," in this case, simply means that the three quarterbacks on the roster are likely to be on the opening-day roster, meaning that, for the weekend at least, the team probably won't be making any more major decisions there.
Likewise, the four running backs on the roster are very strong bets to stick on the final roster, as are the top six cornerbacks on the depth chart. It's not likely at all that the Bills will keep a seventh corner, so the four names at the end of the pecking order will likely be vying for a practice squad role (or two) against the Lions.
Where do the Bills have one-off questions?
The Bills claimed a kickoff specialist, Jordan Gay, off of waivers on Tuesday. That after releasing 2013 sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins, who had been trying to make the cut as a kickoff specialist, but was not consistent enough in that area. The fact that the Bills are still seeking out an option for that very small roll indicates that they'd like to waste (yes, waste) a roster spot for a strong-legged kicker, so that'll be something to keep in mind heading into the weekend.
A one-game suspension for Nigel Bradham also opens up a roster technicality that the Bills may or may not exploit. The team could simply keep Bradham on the 53-man roster and leave him inactive for a week, or they could put him on a Reserve/Suspended list, keep an extra player on the active roster (like, say, rookie linebacker Jimmy Gaines), and then cut someone (like, say, Gaines) when Bradham is allowed to return in Week 2.
Lingering injuries for some key veterans may play a role in the shape of the Week 1 roster, as well. The Bills have been banged up at tight end this summer; Tony Moeaki is only now returning to action, while Lee Smith was injured against Tampa Bay and has missed practices this week. Their availability for the Chicago game could allow for an extra tight end to stick. The same is true along the offensive line, where a back issue has kept Chris Williams out of his left guard spot for a while now, and at safety, where reserve Jonathan Meeks is expected to make the team despite missing extensive action with a neck injury. (Short-term IR may be a possibility for Meeks, too.) If the Bills want a fifth safety to hold down the fort while Meeks is out, either Deon Broomfield or Kenny Ladler could get the call.
Four remaining (heated) battles
With the above situations in mind, there are four major areas at which players are fighting for spots on the roster. They are, in no particular order:
Wide receiver. Five receivers are very strong bets to make the roster, leaving at least one - but may even two - spots for Marcus Easley and T.J. Graham to grapple for. Yes, it's everyone's favorite battle to talk about, and it's coming down to the wire tomorrow night - but would anyone be surprised if the Bills kept both? I'm not sure I would be.
Defensive line. Five players (the four starters plus Manny Lawson) are going to make the team, leaving three to four spots up for grabs for a slew of strong second-teamers to divide up. Two ends (Jarius Wynn and Jacquies Smith) and three tackles (Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, and Landon Cohen) are very much in the running, but at least one of them is likely to be cut.
Offensive line. Seven players (the five starters, plus rookies Cyril Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio) are going to make the team, leaving one to two spots up for grabs. Nine offensive linemen is the standard for teams to keep, but the Bills have gone as low as eight under Doug Marrone. The three players that have the best chances of claiming those one or two spots are Chris Hairston at tackle, and/or Kraig Urbik and Doug Legursky on the interior.
Tight end and fullback. Three players (Smith, Scott Chandler, and Frank Summers) are strong bets to make the team. Depending on Smith's Week 1 availability, the team could keep another two players between these two positions for the Chicago game, but one is more likely. Chris Gragg and Moeaki are the contenders at tight end, and don't count out fullback Evan Rodriguez (a better special teams option than either) just yet.