What is a realistic expectation for James Harrison's playing time?

Can Harrison be the boost Patriots need? (0:45)

Tedy Bruschi says the New England Patriots' signing of LB James Harrison could provide a sense of familiarity against opposing teams. (0:45)

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

Similar to when the Patriots had Eric Lee active in the week after he was signed off the Bills' practice squad in late November (25 snaps in his debut), James Harrison is likely to be part of a specific defensive package or two, and then how much he plays will be dictated by how often the Jets employ the offensive grouping that is matched by the Patriots with the grouping(s) Harrison is part of. For example, it would make sense that Harrison is asked to play outside linebacker in their base defense, and/or possibly as a dime pass-rusher. So the way the game unfolds will play a factor in how much we see Harrison on the field. Anywhere from 20-40 snaps would seem to be a realistic projection.

Robert, the Patriots' running back personnel is thin entering the season finale against the Jets, with Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden the only two rushers who aren't on the injury report. It's possible that "passing back" James White also will miss the game, as he has been limited all week because of an ankle injury. The injury had knocked White out of last week's game.

Tim, the last game that defensive tackle Alan Branch (knee injury) played was Dec. 11 in Miami. Because the Patriots haven't placed him on injured reserve, that is an indication that they still believe, for now, that he has a chance to return for the playoffs. Branch has been around the team, taking part in meetings, and seemed to be in good spirits the other day when reporters were in the locker room.

Mark, if Malcolm Mitchell was activated to the 53-man roster as a designated-to-return IR player, the corresponding move could be a different player going on IR depending on how that player's health status projects (e.g. Branch, Mike Gillislee, Chris Hogan etc.). Defensive end Geneo Grissom has been on and off the roster this year, but plays a core special teams role, so someone like that could be a consideration.

Bill Belichick struck a cautious tone on the topic Friday, and ultimately it is his call. Mitchell has told those close to him that he feels ready and is anxious but respects whatever decision is made regarding his status. Part of it is tied to the question above in terms of the domino effect of creating a roster spot for him. If I had to guess, and it's only a guess, I think we'll see him at some point.

Casey, one of the things that has come up in a few recent games is opponents having some success in man coverage on the outside receivers (e.g. Miami game Dec. 11) and using a robber underneath to take away some of those throws. One of the ways to beat that is for receivers on the outside to shake the man coverage, which Brandin Cooks has done at times but other times has not. While his production is down in recent weeks, to me, disappointment is too strong of a word. I put it into the category of "sometimes the other guys make plays, too." Also, there have been times when opportunities have been there and Cooks didn't get the ball because of factors outside of his control.

Mike, when Tom Brady is so uncharacteristically off the mark like he was in the first half, my first thought is usually something injury-based that is affecting his mechanics. On Friday, he was asked about his left non-throwing shoulder, which is now listed on the injury report, and if that injury was new or something he aggravated. "That's a tricky question. I'll pass, but I'll be out there Sunday," he said.

Sam, I believe the Patriots' practices inside the stadium on Thursday and Friday were more a result of the regular practice fields being affected by the cold, wintry weather.