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Is playing Jets C Nick Mangold risky?

10/5/2011

How big is Sunday's game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots? Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold is trying to return fairly early from a high-ankle sprain.

Mangold practiced on Wednesday, which is an indication he's looking to play this weekend.

But how early is too early? Also, is one game worth the risk for New York -- even if it is against the Patriots (3-1)?

High-ankle sprains have kept some players out for about a month. Mangold, one of the toughest players in the NFL, is practicing after missing two games. There are different degrees of sprains. Perhaps Mangold had a lower-grade sprain or his rehab process went very well.

The Jets (2-2), following a two-game losing streak, want to get back to ground-and-pound football. It's most likely their best chance to beat the Patriots, who have the 32nd-ranked defense. The Jets will like their chances even more if Mangold's ankle holds up in practice this week.

Mangold is still the team's best interior offensive lineman even if he's not 100 percent. But New York needs to be careful that playing Mangold Sunday doesn't cause any setbacks. The Jets need their starting center for the long haul.