Branch missing from first Patriots practice of Divisional Round week

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Branch missing from first Patriots practice of Divisional Round week

FOXBORO -- Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch was missing from the start of Tuesday's practice, which was held inside Gillette Stadium. It was the first practice held on the team's game-day turf since they held a training camp practice for season-ticket holders and Foxboro residents. 

Branch was not spotted during the media-availability portion of Thursday's practice last week. He has been coach Bill Belichick's most consistent defensive tackle this season, which Belichick pointed out recently, saying both Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine should aspire to play at the level of their 10-year veteran teammate.

Branch started all 16 regular-season games for the Patriots and played in 60 percent of the defensive snaps, which was his heighest percentage of defensive snaps  he has played since 2011 when he was a member of the Seahawks. Branch turned 32 years old at the end of last month.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has skipped a handful of practices since taking a hard hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in Week 10, was present for the start of the fully-padded session.

Returning to practice on Tuesday was Patriots corner Cyrus Jones, who had not practiced since the Wednesday before the regular-season finale due to a knee injury.

Poll ranks Patriots as NFL's most 'badass' team

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Poll ranks Patriots as NFL's most 'badass' team

Five-time Super Bowl champions. Seven-time AFC champs. Fourteen-time AFC East champs. Now, Bill Belichick's Patriots have another title.

NFL's most "badass" team.

The Tampa Bay Times polled a panel of 43 NFL writers and asked them for the top three most "badass" teams and players in the NFL.

MORE PATRIOTS

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots came out on top with 29 top-three votes. 

Here's a sampling of the panelists' comments:

"They keep winning in a league designed to discourage dynasties." -Terez A. Paylor, Kansas City Star

"Hands down. They take a three-touchdown lead and keep throwing, and throwing, and don't give a damn what anybody thinks." -Tyler Dunne, Bleacher Report

"For a decade they've been toying with and laughing at the rest of the league. The biggest bullies on the block." — Ralph Vacchiano, SNY

"Behind the glitz and glamour of having the game's greatest quarterback, the Patriots ranked among the league's top 10 scoring defenses each of the past five seasons, including No. 1 in 2016." — Ryan Wood, Green Bay Press-Gazette

The most badass player? Veteran Steelers linebacker James Harrison. The highest-ranked Patriot on the list? Tom Brady at No. 6. Rob Gronkowski was tied with Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 8. Julian Edelman was among the others receiving votes. 

Here are the full rankings: 

MOST BADASS TEAM 

1. Patriots (29 votes)

2. Seahawks (27)

3. Steelers (18)

4. Raiders (9)

5. Ravens (8)

6t. Broncos (6)

6t. Cowboys (6)

8. Bengals (4)

9t. Cardinals (2)

9t. Packers (2)

9t. Panthers (2)

9t. Texans (2)

Also receiving votes: Chiefs, Falcons, Rams, Titans (1 each)

MOST BADASS PLAYER

1. James Harrison, Steelers LB (14 votes)

2t. Marshawn Lynch, Raiders RB (10)

2t. J.J. Watt, Texans DE (10)

4t. Kam Chancellor, Seahawks S (8)

4t. Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins DT (8)

6. Tom Brady, Patriots QB (7)

7. Von Miller, Broncos LB (6)

8t. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE (5)

8t. Khalil Mack, Raiders LB (5)

10. Aaron Donald, Rams DT (4)