The New England Patriots won't get running back Dion Lewis back this year. It's unlikely that wide receiver Julian Edelman will be back before the finale, and most are expecting the Patriots to hold out tight end Rob Gronkowski for a week or two longer than necessary to ensure his health for the postseason.
Wide receiver Keshawn Martin, acquired in a midseason trade, led the skill players in snaps, while fellow receiver Brandon LaFell, back after missing the first half of the season with an injury, can't seem to catch a break, never mind a football. Running back LeGarrette Blount is hot and cold, while sophomore James White seems to be ready to emerge.
Receiver Danny Amendola, quietly on pace for the best season of his career, was the 6th option in the offense before Lewis went down with an injury against Washington in week 9 (behind Edelman, Gronkowski, Lewis, Blount, and the recently returned LaFell). Thanks to all of the injuries, Amendola is now the most important skill player in the offense.
The Patriots currently have six players on pace to collect 500+ yards from scrimmage on the season, which would be a tie for the second highest mark under Bill Belichick, trailing only the 2013 offense with seven such players. In fact, the Patriots are within striking distance of being the first Belichick team with six players with 600+ yards from scrimmage.
That's not necessarily a good or a bad problem, but more just an observation. While Lewis won't be able to return, the Patriots could head into the playoffs with five players that could legitimately put the offense on their back in Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola, LaFell, and Blount. This is pretty much the same offense as last season, with James White assuming the role of Shane Vereen.
In 2013, the Patriots offense was battered with injuries, which meant that the offense was disjointed. Gronkowski was lost for the season, while Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins and Shane Vereen all missed time.
When the Patriots rolled into the AFC Championship game, they were without Gronkowski or Thompkins, Amendola was playing with a groin injury, and Dobson was asked to play on a foot that required serious offseason surgery. The healthy 500+ yard players included Edelman and three running backs (Stevan Ridley, Blount, Vereen). The offense was not able to function and the Patriots lost.
This year is different. While players are picking up yardage thanks to injury-based opportunities, the Patriots are expecting their injured players to return and to be healthy for the playoff stretch. Gronkowski, Edelman, and Amendola should be closer to full health, while LaFell and Blount still have time to reacclimate themselves into the offense. And who knows, maybe James White or Scott Chandler can emerge over the final four weeks to offer another option.
Can the Patriots avoid a season finale like the AFC Championship loss in 2013? Hopefully. Until the offense is healthier, New England will have to trust in their depth to carry the team for a few more weeks.