Patriots' Alan Branch facing four-game suspension

The Patriots will be a bit thinner up the middle after the league has sidelined one of its interior defensive linemen.

Defensive tackle Alan Branch has been notified he's facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on substances of abuse, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation. Branch will appeal the suspension, Rapoport added.

Branch, 31, is a veteran cog along with defensive end Chris Long in a front four that ranks 17th in the NFL against the run. After Long, the next closest defensive lineman in age is 27-year-old end Jabaal Sheard, and of the other three defensive tackles listed on the team's depth chart, only second-year pro Malcom Brown brings any experience beyond this season.

New England will have to act fast, or rely on its younger players to fill the void in the final quarter of the regular season. Sitting atop the AFC East at 8-2. they're in a position to do the latter if they so desire. But with a remaining slate that includes Todd Gurley's Los Angeles Rams, and a Week 17 date with Miami's ninth-best rushing attack, the Patriots should hope the appeal is resolved in timely fashion.