Belichick says it with feeling

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Belichick says it with feeling

After Sunday's Patriots game, I tuned in to Bill Belichick's press conference, hoping for a good laugh. I envisioned question after question from reporters trying to bait the coach into waxing on the AFC Championship Game followed Belichick stonewalling them in the most awkward way possible.

"I'm not really worried about which game it is," he'd mumble. "Just focused on the Ravens. They're a good team. Great competitors."

But in real life, Belichick took the stage and something was different. He was still far from cheerful, but unlike a typical Belichick presser, the coach was actually engaged. He was present. And while there was still a heavy helping of deflective cliches, many of his answers were filled with actual substance, perspective, and believe it or not, emotion.

"Of course were excited to be heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens," he said. "Its a great honor, really, to participate in the game; to be playing for the right to represent the AFC the following week."

Excuse me. Did he just say excited?

"Tom has meant a lot to us since hes been here," Belichick said about Brady's setting the record for postseason wins. "He started winning playoff games the first year he really got a chance to participate in them. Tom is a great competitor. He had a great week of preparation as he always does for every game but especially the playoff games. Hes our leader and we all follow him, we all respect him and he led the team today, along with a lot of other guys but he certainly did his job, as hes done many times before. Theres no quarterback Id rather have than Tom Brady."

OK, maybe it's not out of the ordinary for the coach to throw praise on Brady, but this answer was heartfelt. It came from a deeper side of Belichick that's very rarely on display when he's standing at the podium.

And then this morning, during a conference call with the media, Belichick was asked about Sunday's struggles in kick off coverage.

"Overall our kickoff coverage has been one of the best things weve done all year," he said. "Were right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage. We didnt have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays yesterday, but overall thats been probably as consistent as anything weve done as a football team for the entire season."
Honestly, if I had shown you the above quote out of context and asked: "Which NFL coach said this?"

Would you have ever guessed Bill Belichick?

I wouldn't have, but after watching yesterday's press conference, it all makes sense. Belichick's honesty was reminder of something that I had very clearly forgot, even though it comes up every time the Pats are fortunate enough to make it this far.

That is: When it comes to the AFC Championship Game, not even Bill Belichick's immune to getting caught up in the excitement. After all, this is what it's all about. The act, the games, the secrecy, the cliches. It's all in the name of the opportunity that stands before the Patriots this Sunday. One win for a trip back to the Super Bowl. Even the coach has to smile.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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.