FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England gets a mix of good and bad news in the running back department this Christmas Weekend. While we already knew that rookie Rhamondre Stevenson would be out of commission due to COVID-19, the Patriots should be in capable hands with the return of veteran Damien Harris, who missed the Colts game because of a lingering hamstring problem from the first Bills game. Harris' inclusion in today's 48-man game-day lineup comes at a crucial time, as he'll now likely be asked to shoulder the load as the primary ball carrier, as Stevenson did in his stead versus Indianapolis.
That said, hamstrings can be tricky injuries from which to recover, so, Harris' health will be worth monitoring throughout this afternoon's rematch with Buffalo, especially with Brandon Bolden, the other experienced ball carrier on the roster, having been limited all week with a knee issue. Second-year man J.J. Taylor is also available if needed after being removed recently from the COVID/reserve list.
Meanwhile, LB Ja'Whaun Bentley is back in action today after missing most of the Colts game with an ankle issue. WR N'Keal Harry (hip) is also prepared to play today despite not having been able to finish the Colts game last weekend. And as noted in a previous post this weekend, fellow wideout Kendrick Bourne is available to play after being removed from the COVID/reserve list.
The Patriots' six-man inactive list for today's game looks very much like it has in recent weeks, with the exception of WR Nelson Agholor, who was ruled out of this game on Friday because of a lingering concussion from the Colts game. The other five are third-string QB Jarrett Stidham, defensive back Joejuan Williams, tight end Devin Asiasi, rookie cornerback Shaun Wade, and rookie safety Joshuah Bledsoe. Of these five, only Bledsoe (calf injury) was listed on the injury report at all this week.
The continued inclusion of Wade and Williams is mildly interesting, considering that the club promoted practice squad cornerback D'Angelo Ross on Christmas Day. He'll be active instead of those other two teammates at his position. Whether he plays on defense or not (perhaps a special teams role?) remains to be seen, but it's noteworthy that he's in the mix today as opposed to two guys who have been on the 53-man roster all season.
Buffalo, meantime, will be missing several key players as a result of the coronavirus. Wide receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis are important playmakers for QB Josh Allen who will be sidelined this afternoon.
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will sit this game out due to an unspecified personal matter that kept him out of two consecutive practices on Thursday and Friday. Bills pass rusher A.J. Epenesa is also out with COVID-19, as are a pair of utility guards, Cody Ford and Jon Feliciano.
Buffalo did get some good offensive line news when starting left tackle Dion Dawkins was removed from the COVID/reserve list on Christmas Day. Suffice to say, though, that Buffalo's offense will be curtailed by the loss of Beasley and Davis, in particular, while the Bills' D is weakened without Lotulelei and Epenesa.