Patriots players back to work

It's back to work, at least officially, for the Patriots players today, as for the first time since last Thursday they will be required to be in the practice facility and will begin preparation for this Sunday's opponent, the Houston Texans.

Here's a look at what's on tap and the relevant story lines of the day.

It's Wednesday, sort of. The calendar says today is a Tuesday, but from a preparation standpoint, today is like a normal Wednesday, according to head coach Bill Belichick. What does that mean? Typically teams focus on first- and second-down plays during a Wednesday practice, before moving on to third-down plays on Thursday and red zone/goal line plays on Friday. With an extra day to work with this week, it will be interesting to hear how the Patriots further approach the practice itinerary.

Will Ninkovich continue to practice? It came as something of a surprise to see defensive end Rob Ninkovich on the practice field last week as he works his way back from a Week 17 hip injury. It would figure, although it's no guarantee, that he'll be back on the field again today. Having him on the field this weekend would be a boon for the Patriots defense, as he played 85 percent of the regular season defensive snaps.

Captains to speak. We'll hear from a pair of Patriots captains this morning, as wide receiver and special teams standout Matthew Slater plus Vince Wilfork are scheduled to field questions prior to practice. Veteran receiver Deion Branch will later be available, and the locker room will be open as well this afternoon. Neither Bill Belichick or Tom Brady are scheduled to speak, although we'll hear from both on Wednesday.

Modest temperatures this week. Unlike recent weeks, it's shaping up to be a mild few days in New England, with a game-time temperature expected to be around 50 degrees. The forecast calls for upper 40's today, and the Patriots will be outside on the practice field. The first time the Patriots hosted the Texans, steady rain left the tarp on the field at Gillette Stadium for much of the day.

Proud Tide alums. It won't be a surprise if linebacker Dont'a Hightower or defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick are smiling wide today. After all, their alma mater won its third national championship in four years last night when Alabama toppled Notre Dame 42-14. The Patriots don't have any players from Notre Dame, but the pair of Alabama graduates is part of a large pipeline of SEC talent on the team.