The bye week seems to have been just what the doctor ordered for the New England Patriots as the team saw the return of Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer to practice earlier today. Vollmer had missed the final five games of the regular season, while Mankins was injured in Week 16 against the Dolphins and missed Week 17 against the Bills. Therefore, for the first time in five weeks, the Patriots will have the majority of their core offensive linemen available (minus center Dan Koppen who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the season).
When the Patriots played Denver in Week 15, they were missing Vollmer, Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes, and Deion Branch all due to injury. All players are key cogs what the Patriots do. Chung helps to settle the secondary down and provides good run support, Spikes is a phenomenal run-stuffer, and Branch is Tom Brady’s go-to guy when he needs a safety net and teams have doubled Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski.
While the team will not be dramatically different, it is clearly improved over the unit that played Week 15 with these additions. The Pats will need all hands on deck to slow down a much-improved Denver team riding high over the upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will it be enough?