For the Patriots to capture a first-round bye, they would have to win their next two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins. Then, they would need either the Denver Broncos to lose one game to either the Cleveland Browns or Kansas City Chiefs, or they'd need the Houston Texans to lose both of their games against the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots will probably win their next two games, but the other scenarios aren't likely.
In addition, claiming a first-round bye isn't historically a big factor in winning the Super Bowl (the last two champions didn't have first-round byes).
Consequently, there is no reason why the Patriots should rush Gronkowski back, especially given that they've gone 3-1 without him, with the only loss being a 41-34 squeaker against the San Francisco 49ers.
Head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have historically been tight-lipped about injuries, so there's no telling when they plan to bring Gronkowski back, but the best decision at this point would be to rest him and make sure he's 100-percent healthy in the playoffs.
Before going down with an injury in Week 11, Gronkowski was having another tremendous season, racking up 748 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Patriots have been able to make do at tight end with Aaron Hernandez since, but we all know how explosive this team can be with both tight ends healthy.
Playing Gronkowski at this point is only asking for trouble. Wait until he's healthy and then watch the fireworks come playoff time.
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