By Rich Kurtzman
Looking at the injury report for Denver and New England, it would seem to be the tale of two teams, health-wise.
The Broncos are basically completely healthy—with all five players listed as probable—while the Patriots are banged up at multiple skill positions—with 12 listed as questionable.
In Dove Valley this week, Chris Kuper not only made a comeback, he was a full participant Thursday and Friday. Kuper seems to be quite close to coming back from the broken forearm he’s been battling with since mid-August, and he could possibly play this week. He would bolster the Broncos’ offensive line, to be sure, especially after starting center J.D. Walton was lost last Sunday due to a broken ankle.
Tracy Porter, who has a sore shoulder, should be able to start this week and likely lineup against speedy wideout Wes Welker. Welker’s enjoyed being Tom Brady’s top receiving threat again this season, and he leads the Pats in both receptions and yards.
Attempting to help Porter slow down New England’s passing attack is nickelback Chris Harris, who rolled his ankle Week One against the Steelers.
Slot receiver Julian Edelman has been ruled out, so that’s one less weapon for the Denver secondary to worry about, though both tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle) are questionable. Gronkowski, the most deadly tight end in the league, will play, but Hernandez’s status is up in the air. Gronk and Hernandez destroyed Denver last January, through the air and the ground, and missing one would be a big blow to the Pats.
Others listed on Denver’s injury report are backups; linebacker Nate Irving and wide receiver Matt Willis. Both should be available to play. Every one of the Broncos’ hurt players were able to fully participate Friday, meaning they should have a full roster to play with for the first time all season.
In all, the Patriots have 13 players listed—with defensive tackle Kyle Love the only one probable—and they have nearly every position accounted for on the injury report.
Besides those previously mentioned, linebacker Dont’a Hightower (hamstring) and guard Logan Mankins (hip/ankle) would be the most significant losses to the team. Hightower is the rookie starter with 17 tackles, and arguably the team’s most athletic player on the defensive side of the ball. Mankins is the seasoned veteran and has been one of the top guards in the NFL for the last eight years.
Of course, it must be mentioned that New Enland, led by the rebellious Bill Belichick, plays around with the injury list a bit. They mask the truly injured players by calling nearly everyone “questionable,” making it a guessing game as to which ones teams will need to focus on stopping.
It means the Broncos will have to prepare for everyone, and they know how explosive the Patriots offense is. New England put up 52 points—40 in the second half—in their blowout of Buffalo last week, meaning they may have just hit their stride.
Guard Chris Kuper (forearm)
Linebacker Nate Irving (concussion)
Wide Receiver Matt Willis (hamstring)
Cornerback Tracy Porter (shoulder)
Nickelback Chris Harris (ankle)
Defensive Tackle Kyle Love (knee)
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (hamstring)
Guard Logan Mankins (ankle/hip)
Tight End Rob Gronkowski (hip)
Tight End Aaron Hernandez (ankle)
Running Back Brandon Bolden (knee)
Defensive End Brandon Deaderick (ankle)
Defensive Tackle Justin Francis (ankle)
Tight End Michale Hoomanawanui (concussion)
Offensive Lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder)
Cornerback Sterling Moore (knee)
Running Back Shane Vereen (foot)
Offensive Tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back)
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.