The Patriots must have really, really needed that bye week.
Not only did it allow them extra time to prepare for their likely opponent in the Houston Texans, but it appears Bill Belichick also lead an incredibly successful expedition to the far reaches of Earth and discovered the Fountain of Youth filled to the brim with Holy Water.
... Not likely, but it's difficult to come up with a plausible explanation for what transpired this afternoon.
In an unexpected twist, the Patriots cut deeply into their always-stacked injury reports (that find more use as the butts of jokes than to Vegas bettors and ardent fans) and removed a staggering fifteen players from them. Those fifteen carried a "questionable" designation on both Wednesday and Thursday's reports. The players are:
S Patrick Chung
G Dan Connolly
S Nate Ebner
TE Aaron Hernandez
LB Dont'a Hightower
DE Chandler Jones
WR Brandon Lloyd
G Logan Mankins
LB Jerod Mayo
DE Rob Ninkovich
LB Mike Rivera
LB Brandon Spikes
CB Aqib Talib
WR Wes Welker
LB Tracy White
The only five that remain on the report (that were upgraded from a "questionable" to a "probable" designation the same day) are CB Marquice Cole, CB Alfonzo Dennard, TE Rob Gronkowski, OL Nick McDonald and DE Trevor Scott.
Why the Patriots felt compelled to take such drastic action on their trademark injury gamesmanship is unclear. It wouldn't come as a shock if reports surface and show that the league c/o Roger Goodell had distributed a memo to participating playoff teams, promising penalties and fines to those that are taking liberties with or falsifying/embellishing player injuries. The NFL will likely be under a ton of scrutiny this offseason as Junior Seau's disgnosis comes bubbling to the surface, and they'll want to be sure their nose is as clean as possible in that department as they inevitably take on a very frustrated players union in the media and in the court.
The plus here is that, despite the rationale, no news is good news when it comes to the removed fifteen. As those players become all but forgotten on the injury report, it can only bode well for both their health and probability to suit up for Sunday's game. Success in the postseason is very much predicated on getting healthy at the right time, and despite losing several of their playmakers for prolonged periods during the regular season, the Patriots appear to be doing just that.
Perhaps lost in the mass medical exodus is the status of DE Rob Ninkovich. What was once thought to be a serious hip injury suffered by Ninkovich during the Dolphins game is now a mere afterthought, as one of the Patriots' unsung defensive heroes appears to have dodged a bullet and will be ready for Sunday.