In a surprising move on Saturday, the New England Patriots cut wide receiver Deion Branch for the second time in less than three months, opening up a roster spot for Aqib Talib and promoting Greg Salas from the practice squad. While that move may be bad news for Branch, it could be good news for fantasy football owners of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd.
First off, if you owned Branch for some insane reason, you can now safely cut him. Branch had just 9 catches for 80 yards this entire season, although if you picked him up off of waivers after he actually caught 4 balls for 30 yards in last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills, you can send him right back to the waiver wire, just like the Patriots did yesterday.
But while Branch’s release may not seemingly effect many fantasy owners, it does in a different way. Just not the owners who had Branch on their team.
As you probably know, the Patriots are notorious for listing half of their roster on each week’s NFL Injury Report. Most of them are designated as questionable, regardless of whether or not they only have a 50/50 chance of suiting up for this week’s game. They play it safe now in order to avoid another fine.
On this week’s injuries, you will find Welker and Lloyd listed as questionable. But now, I would say it is safe to assume that both will play on Sunday without limitations from any injuries. Lloyd was never really in any danger of missing today’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, and was probably the closest player to a probable designation of the whopping 16 players the Pats listed on this week’s report. He played last week and at least practiced sparingly on a limited basis throughout the week.
Welker was a bit more of a question mark, although most signs pointed toward him being on the field and starting on Sunday afternoon as well. Welker did miss practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was able to at least return on a limited basis on Friday, signaling many to believe that he would definitely start.
With New England cutting Branch, that may all but assure the fact that both Welker and Lloyd will start on Sunday. It is highly unlikely that the Patriots would have waived Branch now if they truly felt either of their top two wide receivers were in any danger of missing the Pats’ Week 11 game. Welker and Lloyd should start as usual, and could have a very good matchup against the Colts, who will be playing without their top two cornerbacks on Sunday.
This game has all the makings of an old fashioned shoot out, which is good news for fantasy owners everywhere, unless you own Aaron Hernandez. Branch or no Branch, Hernandez will miss another game this week. That will make Rob Gronkowski an ever better option, if that is even possible.