Curran: Texans' turn at trying to roll with Patriots


Curran: Texans' turn at trying to roll with Patriots

I finally figured out why Monday nights game against Houston feels so appealing and has created so much anticipation. Novelty.

The Texans are new blood.

With Matt Schaub under center, Houston is 18-4 since the start of 2011. But it doesnt have a signature win against a conference power that stamps it as truly legit.

Are the Texans just a really good team that like so many in the AFC over the past decade is about to slam into reality and have its shortcomings exposed? Or are the Texans ready to break the absurd stranglehold the AFC has been locked in for more than a decade?

Do you realize that, since 2001, the AFC has sent four teams to the Super Bowl?

Aside from the Raiders outlier appearance after the 2002 season, true parity in the AFC has been an illusion. New England went and won in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and lost in 2007 and 2011. The Steelers went and won in 2005 and 2008 and lost in 2010. The Colts split their appearances in 2006 and 2009.

On the other side, the NFC has been represented by 10 different teams since 2001 (the Giants are the only team to get there twice).

Think of the really good teams and players in the AFC that have seen their primes come and go without getting to the Super Bowl since the Patriots became great. The Chargers. The Ravens. The Broncos. The Jaguars. The Titans.

For more than a decade, the Patriots and, to a lesser extent, the Steelers have been annually swatting back pretenders.

Now here come the Texans in their letterman jackets understanding EXACTLY what theyre up against. Why would they bill this as the biggest game in franchise history when they played two playoff games last year? Because they played those playoff games with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates as their starter. That wasnt the Texans. It was a team trying valiantly but vainly to survive when it knew it was ultimately doomed.

These are the Texans. Does the same fate that Jeff Fisher, Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner, Jack Del Rio, Mike Shanahan, John Harbaugh, Brian Billick, Rex Ryan all tasted await Gary Kubiak tonight? Or is Houston in a position to elbow its way into the conversation.

Even if the Patriots lose on Monday, this will be no changing of the guard. The Patriots are not a team of grizzled veterans holding on to greatness. They already negotiated their rebuilding process in 2009 and 2010 and went 24-6 during that span.

Theres a lazy tendency around here for media types to point out that the Patriots havent won a Super Bowl in eight seasons, as if thats a damning fact.

That stat - like so much of what we in the media sadly offer our consumers - is devoid of context and thought, merely a ploy to agitate when we havent bothered to investigate.

The current Patriots are along with the 80s and 90s 49ers, the 60s Packers, and the 70s Steelers the most successful organization the NFL has seen.

And there is no end in sight, especially with their 35-year-old quarterback playing better with each passing season.

You dont get to hear that enough. Why is that?

Well, the formative years of Boston media members born before 1983 was spent watching mostly talented but flawed teams that would faceplant at crucial moments. That left us sitting on the ends of our beds, pimply-faced and wondering what might have been. It made us cynical, the kind of people who walk out on a clear, spring day, look at the sky and wonder when the meteor will hit.

Those born before 1960 are afflicted with a more virulent strain of miserable. They romanticize the 1967 Red Sox, a team that didnt even win the friggin World Series, as the pinnacle of their sports-viewing lives. They remember a time when the teams they covered needed them because they were the only voice in town. Now, not so much.

They could only take so much success from one franchise before reverting to the hackneyed, sky-is-falling, you dont know what we know storylines that get them to deadline and onto their next gig.

If the Patriots beat the Texans, the fossils will tell you its the outcome everyone expected anyway. If they lose, its comeuppance for the arrogant Patriots.

Its neither. The Texans are trying to be successors to the Colts, the Steelers, the Ravens and the Chargers. We will find out tonight whether they may be worthy adversaries to the one AFC constant since 2001. The Patriots.

Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015


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


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'


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.