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Work begins on playoff bye week; Dec. 30 notes

The Patriots suited up for their first of three practice days this week, including one on New Year's Day, before taking three days off for Wild Card Weekend.

New England finds itself in remarkably good shape, health-wise, at this late stage of the season. Left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back), wide receiver Julian Edelman (concussion), left guard Dan Connolly (knee), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (right shoulder), and left tackle Nate Solder (right knee) – all of whom missed all or most of the regular season finale – took part in Tuesday's session.

In fact, the only player not on the field was wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who injured an ankle against the Bills. He was able to return and play in the fourth quarter, shortly after sustaining the injury, and was seen in a medical boot afterward. LaFell denied strongly on his Twitter account that he was in bad shape, but his absence on the field Tuesday would seem to indicate that, at the very least, the medical staff is being cautious with his condition for the time being.

"It's good that we're on a slower pace, make sure we understand things, let some guys get healed up," Hightower observed afterward. "We're definitely taking advantage of it all. We're still practicing, not taking it lightly. Just going back and looking at things we did during the season… the small things you can work on now that you didn't get to during the season."

"The focus is on us this week," RB LeGarrette Blount asserted, "to correct all the stuff that hasn't been going to well for us. Nobody can stop us but us."

Playoff Fever

One of the advantages of the Wild Card bye is that the players can get some rest and actually watch football during the New Year's weekend. They'll of course take note of the NFL playoffs, but the Patriots also have at least one player from each of the four schools in the first-ever college football playoff, which starts on New Year's Day.

Hightower attended Alabama, which faces safety Nate Ebner's Ohio State squad.

"I'm definitely going to catch that one," Hightower assured reporters with a smile. "Me and Nate have talked. We haven't set [a friendly wager] yet, but I'm pretty sure he'll come up with something good."

Blount, meantime, and his Oregon Ducks will meet rookie center Bryan Stork's defending champion Florida State Seminoles.

"Oregon's going to win," Blount laughed.

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