The Patriots have released their final game statuses for Sunday's showdown with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs at Gillette Stadium.
After sitting out all three practices this week, New England ruled out lead-back Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) for Sunday's home tilt against Kansas City. The Pats also listed seven players as questionable: DL Christian Barmore (shoulder), LB Ja'Whaun Bentley (knee), OT Trent Brown (ankle/hand/illness), WR DeVante Parker (knee), ST Matthew Slater (groin), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle), and WR Tyquan Thornton (hamstring).
Without Stevenson, the Patriots will lean on veteran Ezekiel Elliott for the second consecutive week. Elliott had a season-high 140 scrimmage yards while playing 52 of the 57 offensive snaps in the win over the Steelers last Thursday night. New England is in good hands at running back with Elliott, who said earlier this week, "Hopefully, they use me up this last month."
As a featured back for years in Dallas, Elliott noted that his 165 touches this season are well below his typical workload at this point of the year, so he feels fresh to take on a leading role. Still, the Patriots could elevate second-year RB Kevin Harris from the practice squad for the second straight game or give RB Jamycal Hasty an opportunity to spell Elliott.
Along with being down their starting running back, the Patriots wide receiver room caught the injury bug. Starting with the good news, rookie wide receivers Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte were removed from the injury report -- they're good to go. Following a nasty clothesline hit to the head/neck area on a punt return, Douglas has missed the last two games after entering concussion protocol following the loss to the Giants in Week 12.
According to Pro Football Focus, Douglas's 7.4 yards after the catch per reception ranks fourth among wide receivers. The Pats rookie wideout has been among the standout players in this year's rookie class, with a team-best 410 receiving yards in his first season. As for Boutte, the sixth-round rookie sustained a shoulder injury in the loss to the Giants but is healthy now. Boutte and Douglas's potential return will add some juice for fans to see what two promising young players can do in the season's final four games.
Although the news is positive for the rookies, there's some uncertainty surrounding the availability of veteran WR DeVante Parker (knee) and second-year WR Tyquan Thornton (hamstring). Parker was a somewhat surprise inactive in Pittsburgh. On Thursday, Thornton also appeared on the injury report with a hamstring injury as a limited participant. Smith-Schuster told reporters on Friday that he'll play despite being listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
With the Patriots starting second-year QB Bailey Zappe coming off a win last week, the wide receivers we'd expect to be available for Zappe are Demario Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Kayshon Boutte, while there's a chance Parker and Thornton will play as well.
The final puzzle piece offensively is along the offensive line, where starting left tackle Trent Brown missed the final two practices of the week with multiple injuries. Brown is dealing with a lingering ankle injury and a hand injury, while the Pats left tackle also came down with an illness this week. Primarily due to the ankle issue, Brown has been rotating at left tackle with veteran backup Conor McDermott recently. Last week was a 60-40 split in snaps between the two tackles.
Zappe was under pressure on a reasonable 34.4% of his drop-backs against the Steelers. Brown and McDermott combined to allow five hurries in the game but zero sacks or quarterback hits. Preventing pressure up the middle with All-Pro Chris Jones rushing on the inside is the Pats top priority. Still, Chiefs edge rusher George Karlaftis leads Kansas City with 57 quarterback pressures, while KC has the fourth-highest blitz rate in the NFL.
Despite the high blitz rate and two standout pass-rushers, the Chiefs are a modest 20th in pressure rate this season (34.3%). But defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is excellent at scheming up unblocked rushers. Plus, the Pats could be down their starting left tackle. If the Patriots don't have Brown, their projected starting offensive line is LT Conor McDermott, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Mike Onwenu.
Defensively, the Patriots are in good shape injury-wise, with every active defender given a chance to play on Sunday. Barmore missed Friday's practice and is officially questionable due to a shoulder injury, but one would expect him to play vs. the Chiefs. The same goes for linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, who popped up as limited in Friday's practice due to a knee injury.
The Patriots defense also catches a break with Chiefs star running back Isaiah Pacheco ruled out due to a shoulder injury. Pacheco, who leads the Chiefs in scrimmage yards (988) and has 149 more touches than the next Chiefs running back, had a clean-up procedure on his shoulder, per head coach Andy Reid. With the dynamic speed-back ruled out, Kansas City will rely on Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon in the backfield.
Despite having arguably the best quarterback and tight end (Travis Kelce) in the NFL, the Chiefs scoring average is down nearly a full touchdown compared to last season, ranking 11th through Week 14 (22.5 PPG). The defending champs are still among the league's most efficient offenses, with the fourth-best offensive DVOA. However, there is a blueprint against this offense that we broke down in gameplan this week that has Mahomes visibly frustrated as of late.
Although the Chiefs look more vulnerable these days, Kansas City is an eight-point road favorite over the Patriots in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET kickoff at Gillette Stadium.