The Patriots will be without Alan Branch for the final two games of the regular season, at minimum. The defensive lineman does not need surgery to fix his injured meniscus, but he is expected to miss “a few weeks,” Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link) hears.
The Patriots have already locked up the AFC East title, but they’re still looking to shore up a first-round bye over the next couple of weeks. If they can manage that, then Branch could theoretically return to action for the Pats’ first playoff game, which would be on January 13th. If they have to play in the Wild Card round, then they might have to start the playoffs without one of their starting defensive tackles.
At 11-3, the Patriots have a 90% chance of getting a first-round bye and a 70% shot at being the AFC’s top seed, per the New York Times’ playoff calculator. A win over the Bills this weekend coupled with a Jaguars loss to the Niners would seal up the bye.
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