By Gregory Hunt

Under ideal circumstances, the New England Patriots would like to be able to rest some of their key players as they enter Week 16 of the 2015 NFL season, but even though they have clinched a first-round bye in this year’s AFC playoffs, the 12-2 Patriots still have some work to do in order to clinch home field advantage. The 11-3 Cincinnati Bengals are only one game behind New England, but either a New England win or a Cincinnati loss this week will give the Patriots the advantage they seek. The Patriots are meeting the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, while the Bengals are facing the Denver Broncos Monday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Fortunately, although the Patriots are still being forced to play some players that are a bit banged up, this week’s injury report doesn’t look that bad. The five regular starters on injured reserve won’t be coming back, but the only player on the active roster that is definitely out for Sunday’s game is linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who is still recovering from a hand injury he suffered in Week 14 against the Houston Texans.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman is listed as doubtful with a broken foot he suffered in Week 10 against the New York Giants. He’s been practicing on a limited basis for several weeks, but given how valuable Edelman is to New England’s Super Bowl hopes, it seems extremely unlikely that he will see any game action prior to the playoffs.

Three skilled position players are listed as questionable for this weekend’s game — tight end Scott Chandler (knee) and wide receivers Danny Amendola (knee) and Brandon LaFell (foot). Chandler and Amendola have been dealing with their injuries for much of December while LaFell is a new addition to the New England injury list. It’s not known whether LaFell’s current foot injury is related to the one that kept him on the sidelines for the first six weeks of the season. Last week, against the Tennessee Titans, he led the team in receiving yardage with 88 on five receptions. Amendola saw limited action against the Titans, catching one pass and returning four punts before leaving the game after apparently aggravating his sore knee. Chandler was inactive against Tennessee, so Michael Williams took his place in the lineup.

On defense, both of New England’s starting safeties are listed as questionable — Patrick Chung (knee) and Devin McCourty (ankle). Chung started against Tennessee but left the game after suffering his injury in the fourth quarter. McCourty’s injury was suffered the previous week against the Texans, so he was inactive against Tennessee with Duran Harmon starting in his place. Also listed as questionable is linebacker Dont’a Hightower. He had returned to action against the Titans after missing the previous two games with a sprained MCL, but he was removed from that game after aggravating that injury.

The best news for the Patriots is that tight end Rob Gronkowski is no longer on the injury report. He caught 11 passes against Tennessee and he appears as healthy as any starting NFL player can be 16 weeks into the season.

Probable:
Rob Gronkowski, TE (removed from injury report)
Justin Coleman, CB (hand)
Chandler Jones, DE (hand)

Questionable:
Danny Amendola, WR (knee)
Scott Chandler, TE (knee)
Patrick Chung, S (knee)
Nate Ebner, DB (ankle)
Dont’a Hightower, LB (knee)
Josh Kline, G (shoulder)
Brandon LaFell, WR (foot)
Devin McCourty, S (ankle)

Doubtful:
Julian Edelman, WR (foot)

Out:
Jonathan Freeny, LB (hand)

Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.

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