Brady got a head start on Niners preparation

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Brady got a head start on Niners preparation

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have gone through a logistical grind this season.

Beginning August 22 when the team flew to Tampa, the Patriots were on the road for five out of six games before the end of September.

In October, they flew back and forth to Seattle. Then, after a week in Foxboro, they flew to London to play St. Louis before flying home through the winds of Hurricane Sandy.

They had their Thursday night game against the Jets in prime time on Thanksgiving.

That kicked off a stretch of three night games out of four which will conclude Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.

High-class problems? No doubt. The Bills, for instance, don't get many prime-time gigs.

The excuse of tough scheduling and travel is there for the Patriots. Not only do they refuse to use it, they try to completely ignore it.

One of the reasons the Patriots are 10-3 (and the three losses are by a total of four points) is that they have the ultimate nerd at quarterback.

Tom Brady started preparing for the 49ers before he'd eaten his Thanksgiving turkey.

"After our Thursday night game against the Jets, I tried to do a bunch of work on the Niners," Brady said Wednesday morning. "So I put a couple of days in there and actually after the game on Monday night, I felt like I just had to watch their most recent game and I was caught up. So, you try to take advantage of a little extra time, a little planning. I probably wouldnt have done that 10 years ago."

There's a lot to get ready for with the Niners. They have a hard-hitting secondary with safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson and defensive linemen Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks) and Justin Smith. They have one of the league's best linebacking groups anchored by Patrick Willis.

Brady long ago realized that the burden of preparation that's on a quarterback is light years beyond what his teammates have to handle. Which, as they say, is why he gets paid the big bucks.

"Its probably most important for the quarterback position," Brady acknowledged. "I dont think the receivers are necessarily doing that. They study what they need to study. I kind of have my own routine and preparation. A lot of guys prepare differently. I know Matt Light, who we honored at halftime last week, didnt watch much film at all. He said it screwed him up. Hes one of the best players Ive ever played with, so theres something to be said about that too."

Among the myriad reasons it's hard to sustain success in the NFL is the simple fact that, the better your team is, the harder everything gets. The schedule. The media attention. The travel. The time constraints. The effort every opponent brings.

Asked about the difficulty of preparing for an unfamiliar opponent on a short week, Brady said, "Its all about mental toughness. I think thats what it comes down to. You have those situations where you might not feel great or youre flying a long way, but youve got to eliminate all of those distractions and everything. Youve got to put it behind you and youre competing against that team: that team is the opponent.

"This week its the 49ers," he added. "Its not the weather, its not the rest, its not the crowd its the 49ers. I think as long as you stay focused on them and you focus on what you need to do against them, then you let those other things really take care of themselves. The more you waste energy worrying about a plane flight or weather conditions, its really a waste of time. Youve got to focus on your opponent because whatever youre dealing with, theyre dealing with the same stuff."

Not exactly. But, as Brady points out, why bother with what's on the Niners plate. New England has enough stuff to get through itself.

Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

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Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

Roger Goodell's salary has reportedly fallen in recent years, but he's still paid handsomely for his work as NFL commissioner.

According to the Associated Press, Goodell earned just over $31 million for 2015. That's a seven percent decrease from the $34 million he received for 2014. 

The NFL's last tax return served as an indicator of Goodell's 2015 salary. The league's tax returns no longer have to be made public since it has changed its status from exempt to taxable, per the AP.

The next-highest paid executive at the NFL offices on Park Avenue? General counsel Jeff Pash, one of the most prominent players in the Deflategate sage, who earned $6.5 million in 2015, down from $7.5 million in 2014. 

Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

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Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

The NFL announced this week that Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has been suspended without pay for Week 1 of the 2016 regular season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. 

Richardson will miss his team's season-opener against the Bengals and will be eligible to return to the Jets active roster on Sep. 12. The Jets and the Patriots meet for the first of their two division games on Nov. 27. 

Richardson responded to the news of suspension on Thursday. 

In July of 2015, Richardson led police on a high-speed chase -- hitting speeds as high as 143 miles per hour -- in suburban St. Louis. Police reported a strong odor of marijuana in the car and inside found a loaded, semiautomatic handgun that was possessed legally. Richardson had a 12-year-old relative riding with him in his Bentley at the time of the incident.

In January, Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. Though he avoided jail time, he was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. 

Richardson has been one of the league's best defensive linemen since entering the league as a first-rounder in 2013. He served a four-game suspension to start last season after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

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PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.