New England players, coaches, and staff were back at work Friday after taking Thursday off to celebrate Christmas. The team dressed in shells and went outside on a relatively balmy, sunny December day for their final padded practice of Week 17. They'll do their standard Saturday walkthrough before hosting the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The only player not on the field Friday was RB Jonas Gray. He sustained a left ankle injury against the Jets, although he was able to finish the game and had been limited in the past two practices this week.
After practice, the Patriots' locker room was quiet place, with DE Rob Ninkovich the only player stopping for an extended talk with reporters.
"It was great to spend time with our families," he said of the midweek holiday break, "and it's fun to get back in here and get to work, just get back into the routine of what we normally do during the week, and go out there and play a good football game."
The outcome of Sunday's contest will have no bearing for either team in terms of playoff seeding. New England owns the top spot in the AFC, while the Bills will be watching the postseason from a familiar vantage point – on the outside looking in.
What most observers want to know about this game is just how much the top-seeded Patriots will play their best players in advance of their playoff bye week. Ninkovich, like most of his teammates who spoke earlier this week, seemed eager to give it his all, regardless of the ramifications.
"For me, I enjoy it. Division game. Buffalo always plays us tough," he explained. "They're a good football team. They've got weapons everywhere: running back, tight end, quarterback, receiver. They have a lot of good football players on that team. It's going to be another challenge for us and it's another football game in the NFL. That's what I'm here to do – play football – and I'm excited to play Buffalo."