Packers vs. Bills: 5 things to watch during preseason finale:The Green Bay Packers will finish up the 2021 preseason schedule on Saturday against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.
The kickoff is scheduled for noon central time.
As was the case during each of the first two preseason games, the Packers are expected to rest 30 or more veterans once again. But there’s still plenty to tune in for, including the return of a young quarterback, available jobs along the offensive line and several different undecided roster battles.
Here are five things to watch in the preseason finale:
Quarterback Jordan Love, who missed last Saturday’s loss to the Jets due to a right shoulder injury, is expected to return and start and possibly play into the second half. Barring an unexpected injury to the NFL’s reigning MVP, Saturday’s preseason finale could be the final extended playing time for Love in 2021. More than anything, it’s an important development opportunity for the player and an important evaluation opportunity for the team. The Bills are expecting to play starters to open the game, so Love should get a good look at the speed and talent of a starting NFL defense in a live-game environment. Can Love process quickly, play with his feet, make good decisions and throw the ball accurately? And avoid re-injuring his throwing shoulder?
The Packers have plenty of roster battles to monitor in the preseason finale, but really only one competition for a starting job. Well, two. Both guard spots along the offensive line need to be decided. The Packers must pick two starters out of Lucas Patrick, Royce Newman and Jon Runyan, who will all play against the Bills. Newman has been terrific in each preseason game and could seal a starting job with another strong outing. Patrick is probably safe, but if he loses his starting job and the Packers want to save a few million dollars on the cap this year, he could be in trouble. Runyan needs to play better after two average performances to start 2021.
While Love works under center and Patrick, Newman and Runyan compete for starting jobs, three others along the offensive line will be fighting for key backup spots. Yosh Nijman, Ben Braden and Cole Van Lanen all have a real shot at making the roster. And they could go from roster bubble to roster locks with solid performances against the Bills. Nijman has impressed while playing 100 preseason snaps at left tackle, and both Braden and Van Lanen look the part as versatile linemen capable of playing guard and tackle. The preseason finale should help determine the final construction of the nine or 10 offensive linemen that stick on the 53-man roster.
The Packers’ four highest-graded defensive players this preseason via Pro Football Focus (min. 20 snaps): safety Henry Black, linebacker Ray Wilborn, cornerback Kabion Ento and defensive lineman Jack Heflin. All four are worth watching in Buffalo. Black has operated as the No. 3 safety for much of camp and might already have a roster spot locked up. The others could force their way onto the team. Wilborn moves well and has excelled in coverage. Ento keeps making splash plays but needs to bounce back after a disappointing performance against the Jets. Heflin has been rock-solid all summer and could either force Tyler Lancaster off the roster or force the Packers to keep six along the defensive line.
Special teams will play a major part in deciding the last few roster spots. This includes the battles at receiver, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety. The best special teamers at these positions will help their cause immensely. Pay attention to the players blocking for punts and kicks and covering punts and kicks, especially early. And don’t lose sight of the true specialists. Long snapper Hunter Bradley hasn’t been consistent enough this summer after an inconsistent season in 2020, and punter JK Scott could be one more shank away from forcing the Packers to make a change. They are both competing against potential roster cuts at long snapper and punter around the NFL.