NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Probable: QB Tom Brady (Shoulder)
Out: TE Matt Murphy (Calf ), CB Kiwaukee Thomas (Groin)
Doubtful: RB Marshawn Lynch (Ankle)
Those players listed as OUT did not practice at the end of the week. Each player listed as DOUBTFUL or better had limited practice on Friday with the exception of Bills' defensive lineman Aaron Schobel who was reported to have full participation in Friday's practice session.
INJURY IMPACT RATING
Each player's absence is rated as high medium or low in terms of impact on the team's overall likely strategy on Sunday.
MEDIUM: Stephen Neal, Mike Vrabel
Neal: Neal is the starting guard and has had a lock on the position when he's healthy due to his superior athleticism and ability to use leverage to gain the advantage against opponents. Unfortunately the concern with Neal's shoulder persists. While the Patriots backups Russ Hochstein and Billy Yates to fit into Neal spot when he's out. Yates started in place of Neal in week 2 against the Chargers and the Patriots ran for 144 yards. Hochstein started weeks 3 and 4 against Buffalo (177) and Cincinnati (173) to help the Patriots ground game chew up even more yardage.
It's Neal's versatility, which will be missed. Without his athleticism in the lineup, the Patriots will lose an athletic blocker who can get a hat on the outside defenders on sweeps, outside runs and Screen plays. Logan Mankins is effective in pulling to the right, but Neal's ability to move to the left gives the Patriots three of their strongest blockers in space on the same side: Matt Light, Mankins and Neal.
Vrabel: Mike Vrabel's sore shoulder could potentially be an issue for the Patriots. While he was only listed as having limited practice sessions this week and is questionable for the game, it's a virtual certainty that Vrabel will get the start. If he can't go, the Patriots could move Junior Seau into Adalius Thomas' inside spot alongside Tedy Bruschi and put Thomas in Vrabel's spot if need be. Vrabel leads the team in sacks (8.5) and is the second leading tackler (47) behind only Tedy Bruschi (52). The team has another option of using defensive lineman Jarvis Green in Vrabel's position as an extra rusher to fill that role.
LOW: Eugene Wilson, Eric Alexander, Eddie Jackson
Wilson: With Eugene Wilson downgraded last night to out, James Sanders will get the start for Wilson at free safety. Wilson's absence has been on ongoing issue for the veteran. The Patriots are pleased with the play of Sanders in Wilson's spot. Sanders has started at free asafety the past four games and will likely continue in that role. Safety Rashad Baker - who makes his return to Buffalo since leaving as a free agent last year -- will be the teams third safety.
Alexander: There is speculation that Eric Alexander's knee injury is a bit moer serious than the team has let on. While that may not be verifiable, the Patriots have made contingency plans in case they eventually have to put Alexander on injured reserve. On defense is where Alexander's continued absence could potentially pose a problem. New England had a number of linebackers in a couple weeks ago to get a better feel for their emergency list. Right now the reserve linebackers include an alternating Tedy Bruschi /Junior Seau, Larry Izzo, Pierre Woods
Jackson: Losing Jackson for the game will have a minimal impact on the team's defense or special teams - the two units Jackson is set to be a contributor. Jackson missed the first half of the season due to a torn ACL suffered on Christmas when he was with the Miami Dolphins. Jackson has yet to be a significant contributor for the Patriots on any unit. His ability to play multiple positions in the secondary would boost his value once he's healthy. For now it may be nearing the end for Jackson to get on the field. As noted earlier in Wilson's impact, the Patriots have multiple defensive backs, including Brandon Meriweather who can fill in as an extra defender.