In addition to linebacker Brandon Spikes serving a four-game NFL suspension and now set to make his return, a look at five of the more significant changes for the Patriots since beating the Jets 45-3 on Dec. 6, and how they might play a factor in Sunday's playoff contest between the teams:
1. Ron Brace to season-ending injured reserve. The second-year defensive lineman played left end in the team's 3-4 alignment on Dec. 6. He was on the field for 25 snaps that night, and while not overly impressive, his bulk and power was considered the best matchup against the physical Jets offensive front. Rookie free agent Kyle Love has seen his playing time increase as the third lineman in recent weeks and he looks like a top candidate to join the first unit.
2. Emergence of Eric Moore. The former United Football League player had signed three days before the game and was inactive for the contest. Since then, he's played extensively in a variety of roles -- outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment, defensive end on a four-man line, and defensive end in the 3-4. In four games, he has two sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
3. Return of Myron Pryor from injury/Landon Cohen joins mix. Best utilized as an interior sub rusher, Pryor was inactive for the Dec. 6 game with a back injury. He returned to the lineup in the season finale, and by playing in sub packages, he should help conserve the team's other linemen for early-down work, such as veteran Gerard Warren. Meanwhile, Cohen was signed Dec. 22 and he's been utilized as a sub rusher as well.
4. Decline in Jermaine Cunningham's playing time. The rookie outside linebacker was on the field for a season-high 61 of 65 snaps against the Jets on Dec. 6. In the four games since -- one of which he missed with a calf injury -- he's played a total of 63 snaps. He's missed some practice time of late and his health will be a storyline to monitor this week because of his important edge-setting role.
5. Chung elevates closer to top of depth chart. Safety Patrick Chung played sparingly on Dec. 6, with just 26 snaps, as the Patriots used cornerback Darius Butler as their extra defensive back in sub packages. But no safety has played more than Chung since as he has appeared to have solidified a top spot on the depth chart.