The Patriots meet the Niners Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in a game between two of the league’s elite teams. New England comes into the contest at 10-3, and with an eye on securing one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoff picture.

FOXBORO -- After a report surfaced Wednesday that Rob Gronkowski could return in time to play against the 49ers Sunday night at Gillette, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the progress the star tight end is making from his broken forearm. 

"It's day-to-day. Hopefully today is better than yesterday and hopefully tomorrow will be better than today."

Referee Ed Hochuli -- he of the massive biceps and knack for overexplanation -- will be the lead official for the Patriots-Niners game Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, according to Hochuli, who has worked an an NFL official since 1990, has served as the lead referee for two Super Bowls. This marks his first Patriots' game since 2010, when he served as the lead official in a New England win over Green Bay at Gillette Stadium.

FOXBORO -- With a season-ending ankle injury to Donte' Stallworth on his 63-yard TD Monday night, the Patriots ended speculation Wednesday by officially re-signing receiver Deion Branch. In addition, the Patriots signed rookie receiver Tony Logan to the practice squad.

FOXBORO -- In a fitting award on 12/12/12, Tom Brady has been named AFC offensive player of the week by the NFL for his performance in the Patriots’ 42-14 victory over the Texans last Monday night. It is the 23rd time in his career that Brady has received the AFC offensive player of the week honor, breaking a tie with Denver’s Peyton Manning for the most Player of the Week awards earned by a player since the accolade was instituted in 1984.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to try to practice with the Patriots this week in preparation for Sunday night's game against the 49ers, according to a report from Shalise Manza-Young of The Boston Globe.

Gronkowski has been out since suffering an arm injury (reportedly a broken left forearm) in the final minutes of a rout of the Colts on Nov. 18. He had surgery the following day. New England has won all three games since.

The idea the Patriots’ success this season has been because they’ve been gifted with a softer schedule than the rest of their AFC counterparts is one of the league’s great misconceptions. The truth of the matter is that by just about every metric, New England has faced the sternest test of any of its conference counterparts. 

FOXBORO -- In a surprising move Tuesday, the Patriots placed receiver Donte' Stallworth on injured reserve with an ankle injury and released tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. In addition, the team released OL Tommie Draheim from the practice squad.

Stallworth, 32, was re-signed by the Patriots on Dec. 4 and played in Monday night’s win over Houston. He scored on his only reception in the game on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the third quarter. He was tackled from behind and fell to the ground as he reached the ball over the goal line.

Making his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Tuesday, former Patriots receiver Troy Brown said that Bill Belichick makes a point of shutting down big-name former Patriots when they come in as the opponent. Given that, Brown said that former Patriot and current 49ers receiver Randy Moss will likely be paid extra attention by the New England defense this Sunday. 

"If there's somebody on that team that will beat the Patriots on Sunday, it will not be Randy Moss," Brown said. "He will not score a touchdown on Sunday night. 

Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday, the morning after he threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 rout of the Texans. When asked how the Patriots were able to so easily handle a team that entered the game with an 11-1 record, Brady was quick to praise the work of the coaching staff in readying the players for the matchup.