Source: Aaron Hernandez is 'unlikely'

Barring any last-minute changes, the New England Patriots are expected to be without tight end Aaron Hernandez for the third straight game due to a right ankle injury.

A source said Saturday that Hernandez is "unlikely" to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

The news was earlier reported by the NFL Network.

Hernandez has been battling through a severe ankle sprain since Week 2, although he did return for two games in October. The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring and total offense mostly without Hernandez this season. They can afford to rest Hernandez and get him healthy for the stretch run.

Hernandez put up career numbers in 2011 with 79 catches for 910 yards. But he has just 17 receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns this season.

The Patriots also officially activated cornerback Aqib Talib and promoted practice squad wide receiver Greg Salas to the active roster, a league source confirmed. In corresponding roster moves, the team waived veteran wide receiver Deion Branch and defensive back Malcolm Williams.

The team received a roster exemption for Talib on Monday after he served a four-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. He has been present and practicing with his new team throughout the week.

Salas was also acquired via trade earlier this season, but was waived by the team after Week 2 and subsequently signed to the practice squad. With receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd listed as questionable for Sunday, the team is thin at the position. Branch was also questionable with a hamstring injury.

It's the second time that Branch has been let go by the team this season. He also was cut prior to the finalization of the 53-man roster at the conclusion of training camp. He was later re-signed when the team waived Salas, and has nine catches for 80 yards in seven games this season.

Information from ESPNBoston.com contributor Field Yates was used in this report.