by Sharon Thorsland
The Panthers take on the Bills at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night in their final game of the preseason. This will be the closest thing to a regular season match-up, with Baker Mayfield and most of the starters playing into the second quarter. The only problem is the Bills don’t plan on playing their starters, so we won’t get a really accurate idea of how the Panthers stack up. But Coach Matt Rhule has several things he wants to get out of the game. “I think all of us on defense want to see how physical we’re going to be, how hard are we going to play,” said Rhule. “And on offense, it’s going to be the communication. I want to see guys playing really hard, being where they’re supposed to be. And I want to see the guys have fun.”
This will be the first game since Mayfield was named the starting quarterback, and he and the rest of the offense will face a Bills defense that ranked number one in the NFL last season allowing just 273 yards and 17 points per game. The secondary features a pair of All-Pro safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer plus Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’davious White, although he’s still working his way back from a torn ACL. Keep an eye out for former App State standout Josh Thomas, he should get a lot of reps in the game.
After featuring a ton of former Panthers in their lineup the past several years, the Bills parted ways with a bunch of them this off season, including Star Lotulelei and Mario Addison. But they replaced them with another former Panther in Daquan Jones and none other than Von Miller. The 8-time Pro Bowler is the NFL’s active sack leader, but he won’t be on the field for this one.
Neither will star quarterback Josh Allen. He leads a Bills offense that returns nine starters from last season’s AFC Championship team, and features a bevy of talent like All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Devin Singletary. The Panthers instead will get a heavy dose of veteran QBs Case Keenum and Matt Barkley and rookie running back James Cook, who happens to be the younger brother of Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook.
This might be just a preseason game, but it should still be a pretty good test for the Panthers. The Bills are a perennial playoff team that is stacked top to bottom, so even without the starters on the field they will still provide a challenge. And don’t forget we’ve got roster cuts coming up next Tuesday, when all teams have to get down to 53 players. That makes this game a final chance for guys to shine.
“This is the last opportunity for guys to show what they can do,” said Rhule. “We see a lot of what guys can do in practice, but you also have to go deliver on game day. So I’m excited to see those down the line guys that are fighting for spots get another chance.”