Potential return of Trey Flowers (ribs) would provide Patriots a boost

Trey Flowers, who leads the Patriots with six sacks, could return against the Steelers. Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Every Saturday, hot topics around the New England Patriots are explored in the form of a mailbag.

Kevin, my feeling is that Trey Flowers (team-high 6 sacks) will be back this week. There was significant improvement for him by the end of the week. If he does return, it would be a big boost for a defense that could use a few reinforcements in the front seven. As for David Harris, he has been on the injury report (ankle) as a limited participant in practice this week. As I was projecting the inactives for this week, he was right on the edge. It wouldn't be a surprise to me if he's inactive again.

Ryan, the one thing to pass along on linebacker Kyle Van Noy -- who missed last week's loss with a calf injury -- was that he didn't do much work in the limited time reporters were present at practice. As players jogged and loosened up, he mostly remained stationary along the sideline, and my takeaway was that it didn't look like he was ready to exert himself. So when projecting the inactives for Sunday's game, I put him on the list.

Skip, running backs coach Ivan Fears had noted earlier this year that it was going to be hard for the team to keep having all of its running backs active on game day because of needs in other areas (e.g. special teams). He said at the time: "We're not going to always be able to do this. The numbers, the inactive [list], it's impossible. But we're very fortunate to be able to do it now with all the other injuries we've got [in other areas]. So we're going to utilize those guys the best we can, as long as we can, and keep them fresh, keep them hammering it and see what happens." With that numbers crunch, it just comes down to which players the coaching staff feels have performed the best, and Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead get the nod over Mike Gillislee.

Earl, it will start with a few plays, and they'll build from there. It would obviously be unrealistic to expect Kenny Britt to be part of a no-huddle offense, for example, after just three days of practice. As for the chances he plays Sunday, which was a popular question over the last few days, it would likely be either him or Phillip Dorsett for a fourth spot. They have been cramming to try to get Britt ready. Either way it unfolds, I wouldn't expect a major role for him at this point.

Tony, this is what Tom Brady said about his health this week: "I take it week to week, and I feel really good this week, so I'm very happy about that." In past weeks, he had missed practice time for extra treatment, so I take his words at face value and don't believe the Achilles is a cause for significant concern.

Kristi, Martellus Bennett's contract extends through the 2019 season, but there is a $2 million bonus payment due on the third day of the 2018 league year, and my expectation is that the Patriots won't pay that. If that's the way it unfolds, Bennett would become a free agent, assuming he hasn't already announced his intentions to retire.

Timothy, without Julian Edelman as an option, perhaps they would look to Chris Hogan in that scenario. That would be our first look at a left-handed throwing quarterback in New England in a long time, assuming they would have him attempt any passes.