FOXBOROUGH — The injury news is positive for the Broncos, though not so much for the Patriots.
On Friday afternoon, the Broncos announced that receiver Wes Welker is probable for Sunday night’s matchup against the Patriots. Welker, who is in his first season with Denver after six with New England, suffered a neck injury and concussion last Sunday against Kansas City, but he has been cleared to play by the medical staff.
Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio said if there was a “definitely will go” category on NFL injury reports, Welker would be on it.
Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (knee) is listed as questionable, so the Patriots may not have to worry about the tight end who has 45 catches for 590 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.
On the other side, four of five defensive backs the Patriots use when they’re in nickel defense are questionable.
Cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin), and Alfonzo Dennard (knee), as well as safety Steve Gregory (thumb) were all limited in Friday’s practice and are questionable.
Even if all four play — Dennard is not expected to play because he had a procedure on his meniscus last week — the secondary will not be at their best physically as they face the top passing offense in the NFL.
As expected, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), who did not practice all week, was declared out.
He’s the Manning
On Thursday, Patriots safety Devin McCourty said sometimes it seems as if Denver’s Peyton Manning knows an opposing defense as well as the players on that defense.
When facing a player of Manning’s caliber, disguising intentions is important, and Bill Belichick talked at length Friday morning about how a defense had “better do a good job of it or it’s going to be a long day.”
A defense can get ready for a play, not trying to disguise coverages, but it doesn’t work for very long.
“I mean, you can do that, it’s just a question whether you can hold up in it or not,” Belichick said. “I’d say the odds of that aren’t great, to be honest with you. I mean, usually when [Manning] sees what it is, he gets to the play he wants to get to. I would say they’ve hit a lot of big plays on plays like that. He sees the blitz, calls a tear screen to Demaryius Thomas and he goes 75 yards for a touchdown.
“You can be in whatever you want to be in, but if they have a play to beat it, and it’s well executed, which it frequently is with Denver, you’re just playing right into their hands. You tell them, ‘OK, here we are, we’re going to be in Cover-2 zone, go ahead and run your best play,’ well, they will.
“If you just out-personnel them at every position across the board and say, ‘We’re all just going to lock up on one guy and we’re going to take everybody and we don’t care that they know where we are because we’re that good’ . . . I just don’t think anybody has been able to do that.”
McCourty conceded that trying to hide things from Manning isn’t easy.
“It’s going to be hard to confuse him; sometimes you go out there and you have quarterbacks that you disguise it well and they don’t know what you’re in,” McCourty said. “I think the key for us is don’t make it easy, don’t let him come out [of the huddle] and know exactly what we’re in and let him go from there. Try to make it look a little different, do this, do that, and hopefully he takes half a second longer to figure it out than knowing right away and I think that could be key.”
Marcus Cannon fined for leg whip
The NFL fined Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon $15,750 for unnecessary roughness against the Panthers on Monday night. Cannon leg-whipped defensive end Charles Johnson, who was not able to finish the game. He was diagnosed with a sprained right MCL and will not play this Sunday, but he is expected to return this season. Cannon was not penalized on the play. That was the only fine from the game; both Talib, who mixed it up with receiver Steve Smith, grabbing his foot and not letting go, and Tom Brady, who pursued referee Clete Blakeman into the tunnel following the controversial end to the game, escaped fines . . . The Patriots are holding a food drive Sunday night, with “Celebrate Volunteerism” bins at all entrances for collection of canned goods and other nonperishable food items.