FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots have to find a balance this week.
New England likely will be without Devin McCourty since the star safety missed practice Tuesday and Thursday with a concussion, but they have decisions to make on banged-up players such as running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. The Patriots likely will have to beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday to claim their first-round bye, but they also need those three players on a playoff run.
Vereen hurt his groin against the Ravens last Sunday, Thompkins has been dealing with a hip injury for three weeks, and Dennard has knee and shoulder ailments that held him to six snaps against Baltimore. So, do the Patriots play them, risking further injury and a lack of recuperation, or do they rest them and go into their Week 17 matchup with even fewer starters on the field?
They probably should keep Dennard and Vereen active and only use them if necessary. Thompkins has yet to play on his hip injury, so he still could be a few weeks off. The Patriots probably would like to have their playoff scenario sewn up by this time, but it seems like nothing has come easy this year. They need that bye, so maybe they should take whatever steps necessary to get it.
Let’s get into this week’s mailbag.
What will the starting defense look like a year from now?
This obviously depends heavily on if they re-sign cornerback Aqib Talib and linebacker Brandon Spikes. And whether or not they sign those players depends on how they feel about rookies Logan Ryan and Jamie Collins.
I think both players are good enough to start next season, but Ryan is not quite as good as Talib and Collins has much different strengths than Spikes. Getting linebacker Jerod Mayo back will help.
The Patriots need to improve their interior line. Defensive tackles Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones have played well, Vince Wilfork will be back, Tommy Kelly could return and Armond Armstead might make an impact, but the team needs more depth at that position.
Unless the Patriots suffer a slew of injuries again, I think the defense will be better next season, regardless of what they do with Talib and Spikes. It could look much different without those two pieces in place, though.
Why don’t the Patriots sign a receiver over 6 foot 1?
They just drafted Aaron Dobson and signed Thompkins. I don’t think this really can be a complaint anymore.
Question that is far off in the future: Will the Pats be able to sign Devin McCourty, Julian Edelman and Talib? I’d franchise Talib.
McCourty might need to wait until the Patriots are clear of Aaron Hernandez‘s guaranteed money. They might need to pick between Edelman, Talib and Spikes, though.
I don’t think it’s worth messing with the passing game anymore. We’ve seen what happens when quarterback Tom Brady does not have dependable weapons. New England should sign Edelman this offseason, especially since Josh Boyce, who might have been drafted to replace him, hasn’t shown the same kind of consistency as rookies like Ryan and Collins.
Franchising Talib might not be wise. That’s a lot of money to spend on a player who has never finished a 16-game season. Talib is worth the franchise tag when healthy, but that health cannot be guaranteed.
What is the current health of the CBs (Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, etc)?
I think Talib is close to being back at full health. Cornerback Kyle Arrington might not be 100 percent all season, but he’s battling every week to play through a groin injury. If New England can get a playoff bye, it will be important for both players.
Dennard is dealing with knee and shoulder injuries. There’s obviously a reason he played just six snaps last Sunday, but there’s also a reason he suited up at all. He’s far from 100 percent, but he can play.
The Patriots are lucky to have great depth at the position. They haven’t had a player like Ryan who can step up at a moment’s notice in a while.
Of the 4 potential 6 seeds (Baltimore, San Diego, Miami, Pittsburgh), which should the Pats be most scared of?
Going off past history, I’d say either the San Diego Chargers (because they beat the Denver Broncos) or the Miami Dolphins (because they beat the Patriots).
The Patriots just went into Baltimore and stomped the Ravens, and they trounced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Gillette Stadium. It would take a Patriots loss to play any of these teams before the AFC Championship Game, though.
With his size and strength why doesn’t James Develin try TE in attempt to fill Grok void?
Speed kills in the NFL. And the fullback doesn’t have the speed to get open on a consistent basis. He had played a fair share of tight end and receiver, however.
Can the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl with so many injuries on offense and defense?
Strangely, I think they can. It’s just been that kind of season.
I can imagine looking back in five or 10 years and thinking, “Wow. How did this team make a Super Bowl with Wilfork, Mayo, Rob Gronkowski, etc., all injured.” It goes through the Broncos, though. And playing Peyton Manning in Denver is much different than playing him in Foxboro.
The fact that New England was able to beat the Broncos after such a dreadful start should have Patriots fans hopeful. Losing linebacker Von Miller to a season-ending injury also is huge for Denver.
Can the Patriots make the Super Bowl? Yes. Will they? That’s an entirely different story. Anything can happen in the NFL this season. And that includes a Week 17 loss to the Bills. It also includes a Super Bowl win.