The decision seemed fairly obvious. Sit Josh Allen and let Matt Barkley play the entire way when the Buffalo Bills face the New York Jets Sunday.
There's nothing to gain and, potentially, a whole lot to lose considering the game is a meaningless regular-season finale and a wild-card playoff encounter awaits at Houston or Kansas City the following weekend.
Nevertheless, Allen is due to play against the Jets. Somehow, coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane see a reward in going this route at the most critical position that figures to have the greatest influence on whether the Bills advance in the postseason.
I, for one, am having a hard time finding it through all of the risk.
"Well, I mean, there's risk in practice, there's risk driving around, especially up here in the snow," Allen told reporters on Tuesday. "There's risk all over the place. We get paid to play this game. That's our job to go out there and play it, so we're not thinking of injuries or anything like that. We're just trying to go get another win."
McDermott wouldn't specify how long Allen and other starters would be on the field, other than mentioning Barkley would receive playing time. Allen was equally vague on the quarterback plan.
Regardless, this amounts to a glorified preseason game. The result counts in the standings, but the Bills remain a fifth seed in the AFC playoffs no matter the outcome.
The question is how will McDermott and Beane approach it? Is it going to be similar to a first preseason game, where starters typically play a series, if at all? Or a second preseason game, where starters usually play a quarter? Or a third preseason game, whether starters tend to play a half and sometimes into the third quarter?
"Whether I'm in there for one series, the half, three quarters, whatever it is, we want to go out there and execute how we know how to execute," Allen said.
That sounded like a good, leaderlike thing for him to say.
The problem is that if Allen is in the game for a series or a half, what is the point? There's no case to be made that the action will have even the slightest benefit to how he performs against the Texans or Chiefs. For all intents and purposes, Allen can accomplish just as much in practice as he will in facing the Jets.
In fact, there's a stronger case to be made that for however long Allen is on the field Sunday, his chances for injury are greater than perhaps they would be against a different opponent. The Jets' defensive coordinator is Gregg Williams, the former Bills coach who has a reputation for being highly aggressive with blitzes and coaching his defenders to push the envelope – and go beyond – when it comes to making contact with the quarterback.
Williams' involvement with the "Bountygate" scandal in New Orleans, where the NFL suspended him for a year for overseeing a system in which Saints players were paid for causing injuries (ranging from $1,000 for "cart-offs" and $1,500 for "knockouts"), isn't easily forgotten. It remains a large part of his reputation – with former players and coaches saying he operated the same way with the Bills and other previous employers – along with unabashedly boasting he instructed players to give QBs "remember-me" shots.
McDermott acknowledged the Bills took Williams' reputation into consideration when sorting through plans for Sunday.
"That’s been factored in, that’s been discussed, and I don’t want to go any further with that other than to say that you always also factor in who you are playing," McDermott said. "The game has to be played the correct way and that’s where the officials have to do their job, and we respect their job and we expect them to do their job."
"I go out there and play the game like I know how to play it," Allen said. "I don’t go out there and try to get hits. I try to get the ball out quickly and get the ball to our playmakers and let them make some plays."
Keep in mind, this is the same guy who earlier in the day gave each of his offensive linemen a $1,200 Traeger Wood-Fired grill. Suffice it to say, Allen understands the value of being well protected.
His protectors understand what's at stake beyond Sunday and how that elevates the importance of keeping Allen in one piece.
"Definitely," guard Jon Feliciano said.
"We know that the coordinator has a history of doing things and we know that he's, how we would say, an 'aggressive' guy," said tackle Dion Dawkins. "It's just ball. It's just another task for us and just another opportunity to get better."
Apparently, that's what has McDermott and Beane sold on playing Allen and other starters Sunday.
"It's big picture," the coach said. "It's where we are as a team. Certainly, there's a lot of different ways you can go about it. I've been around it and so, where we are for this team this year, and where we're trying to go, we feel like this is the right thing for this team this year in this situation. We have work to do and we're going to continue to work this week to put our team in the best position possible moving forward.
"They're not all going to play the same amount in the game, so we're going to be smart with that. But it's important that we get work in, fundamentally, we get work in, in terms of execution, and we stay sharp, as sharp as can be. ... We try and do what's right for our football team with one goal in mind in every decision we make. And I think we've been consistent with that."
The only way playing Allen on Sunday will be considered "right" for the Bills is if he comes away healthy. There is no alternative.