The Pats already rank third in pass defense, and now Brandon Browner is on his way back. How much are you expecting to see of him against the Bills, and how might his presence displace guys like Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington?
Knopping: At this point, we're not all too sure if we'll even see Browner this week. He was held out of practice Thursday amid a report that stated he was "struggling to grasp" the complex checks of the Patriots' defense. Should he suit up, he could have an immense impact on the Patriots' defense. When he's in the game, expect to see a whole lot more press coverage, which should also help Darrelle Revis. As for who gets displaced, your guess is going to be as good as ours. Dennard, Arrington, and Logan Ryan all have the versatility to play in both the slot and the outside. I would expect a bit of reduced playing time for all three, although perhaps one of them could also see some time at safety across from Devin McCourty.
Which position(s) has/have been the biggest liability in front of Tom Brady from a protection standpoint, in your opinion?
Knopping: It has been the interior line thus far. The first four weeks of the season, the Patriots couldn't settle on an interior for back-to-back drives, let alone an entire game. The Patriots did have success with a Dan Connolly - Bryan Stork - Ryan Wendell trio against the Bengals, so perhaps that is the answer going forward. This isn't meant as a vote of confidence in either of the bookends - Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. Both have had their struggles as well, the left tackle Solder in particular.
Rob Gronkowski has been playing more and more of late, and is still producing. How close is he to 100 percent these days?
Knopping: If I had to put a number on it, I'd say he looks at about 85-90 percent based on what we're seeing on the field. That doesn't mean he's not still one of the best and most dangerous tight ends in the game, because he is. That being said, he's struggled getting separation a bit this season, and it's clear that his knee isn't what it once was. The key going forward, of course, is going to be whether or not he can ever get back to being 100 percent.
If the Pats limit Chandler Jones again because of his shoulder, what should Bills fans expect from his early-down complement, whether it be Dominique Easley or Michael Buchanan? Or, alternately, is Jones expected to be closer to full health this week?
Knopping: Well, it's not going to be Buchanan, as he was placed on IR earlier this week. Probably won't be Easley either, as he is suffering from a shoulder injury of his own. My guess is that Jones sees his workload return to normal, even if it is a bit out of necessity. If not, we could see some of rookie Zach Moore, who has some upside as a rusher but has been a healthy scratch in recent weeks due to his lack of contribution on special teams. We could also see more 3-4 as a result, with Rob Ninkovich and a Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower on the edges.
This question comes a week late after the Bengals thrashing, but I'm curious: how much do you buy into the rhetoric that the Pats are vulnerable, in any way, as the annual de facto AFC East champions? How confident are you that they're still in prime position to win the division?
Knopping: Well, let's answer your second question first. They are absolutely still in prime position to win the division. After all, they are tied for first and going into a game with the team that they're tied with. While they do have a difficult schedule, they do finish the season with six of their final ten games at home. As to your second, I would say yes, they are vulnerable. They're probably not as vulnerable as they looked against the Chiefs, and not as unbeatable as they looked against the Bengals. But this team, without a doubt, has more flaws than any Patriots team in recent memory (probably going back to 2009 or 2006). Ultimately, I still expect them to win the division, but that isn't as sure of an expectation as it was just a year ago.