The New England Patriots are going to have a big chunk of their offense back on the field as tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to play, according to multiple sources and outlets. Gronkowski was carted off of the field against the Denver Broncos just two weeks ago and his return is a major sigh of relief for football fans around the world.
Gronkowski will join wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell, along with fellow tight end Scott Chandler to form the bulk of the Patriots offensive grouping, although receiver Keshawn Martin actually led the skill players in snaps last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. New England's best offense is probably Gronkowski as the tight end, Amendola in the slot, LaFell on the outside, and Martin filling in for wide receiver Julian Edelman, who has been declared OUT.
Offensive guard Josh Kline has also been downgraded to OUT, which means that the Patriots will likely play two rookies on the interior line for the majority of the game against a very talented Houston Texans defensive front. The veteran Kline has allowed the Patriots to rotate rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson into the lineup, but both 4th rounders will likely take the field for the full game.
An alternate lineup would be center Bryan Stork sliding over to guard, while rookie David Andrews moves back in at center, although this would be a weaker line. Expect the Texans to match up defensive lineman J.J. Watt with Shaq Mason on every passing down possible.
On defense, linebacker Dont'a Hightower has been declared out, which means that Jamie Collins and Jonathan Freeny are going to play the bulk of the linebacker snaps against the Texans. The Patriots feel comfortable giving Hightower some extra rest to ensure that he's healthy in time for the playoffs.
The Patriots have also signed linebacker Eric Martin from the practice squad, which will bolster the special teams unit. It will be telling if rookie Geneo Grissom is a healthy scratch after breaking down and allowing a blocked punt by the Eagles.