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Assessing the loss of Spikes

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots inside linebacker Brandon Spikes is a first- and second-down player in the team's 3-4 alignment, a strong downhill player against the run. The second leading tackler on the team, his presence will be missed against teams that feature a physical running game.

In his absence, the Patriots are likely to turn to third-year player Gary Guyton, who was a starter at strongside inside linebacker in 2009. Guyton has been the team's top sub linebacker this year, replacing Spikes in passing situations, so this could turn him into a three-down player over the final four games of the season.

Rookie free agent Dane Fletcher would also move one spot up the depth chart.

With the Patriots playing more sub defenses in recent weeks, Spikes' playing time has dipped a bit. But his production per play was evidenced against the Jets on Monday night when he finished with seven tackles in 23 snaps and one big interception.

Spikes does not play on special teams units, so there is limited impact in that area.

With Spikes eligible to return Jan. 3, he would benefit from the Patriots possibly clinching a first-round bye, which would give him an extra week of practice as he works his way back into the mix.