FOXBORO — It doesn’t look like Jamie Collins will be hitting free agency.

Jamie Collins reportedly will sign a contract extension with the Browns. (Scott R. Galvin/USA Today Sports)

Jamie Collins reportedly will sign a contract extension with the Browns. (Scott R. Galvin/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — It doesn’t look like Jamie Collins will be hitting free agency.

According to multiple reports, the Browns and Collins are close to agreeing on a multi-year contract extension. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport adds the contract will eclipse the per-year salary of Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly of $12.36 million.

This will make Collins one of the top five paid linebackers in the NFL.

Collins was traded to the Browns on October 31 of last year.

How does this relate to the Patriots? It could impact impending free agent Dont’a Hightower’s next contract.

By all indications, the Patriots have made it a priority to re-sign Hightower. With the team trading away both Chandler Jones and Collins, the linebacker is the biggest name left with the Patriots who will be a free agent after this season. Based on the other linebackers — Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Shea McClellin — the team cannot afford to lose Hightower.

Based off the Patriots keeping Hightower, it indicates they value him more than Collins, and Hightower could use that against the Patriots saying he should receive more money.

It will be something to monitor once the season wraps up and free agency hits.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — The Patriots could have some good luck on their side Sunday afternoon.

Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi will serve as honorary captain for the Patriots for the AFC championship game. He’s served as honorary captain eight times since the start of 2009 and the team is 8-0 in those games.

Tedy Bruschi was the honorary captain in the last AFC championship game played at Gillette Stadium. (Richard Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

Tedy Bruschi was the honorary captain in the last AFC championship game played at Gillette Stadium. (Richard Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — The Patriots could have some good luck on their side Sunday afternoon.

Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi will serve as honorary captain for the Patriots for the AFC championship game. He’s served as honorary captain eight times since the start of 2009 and the team is 8-0 in those games.

“With an undefeated record in games that we have honored him, I can’t think of a more perfect player to serve as honorary captain this Sunday,” owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “He was called the perfect Patriot by head coach Bill Belichick, and he has lived up to that nickname with an 8-0 record in games where he has been a part of a Patriots celebration.”

Bruschi was an honorary captain in both the AFC championship and Super Bowl the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl in the 2014 season.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — There are no legitimate health concerns for the Patriots going into Sunday’s AFC championship game.

For the third straight day, the Patriots had perfect active roster attendance at practice. The only player missing was practice squad defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton. He hasn’t practiced all week.

FOXBORO — There are no legitimate health concerns for the Patriots going into Sunday’s AFC championship game.

For the third straight day, the Patriots had perfect active roster attendance at practice. The only player missing was practice squad defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton. He hasn’t practiced all week.

The team has had seven players limited in each of the previous two days.

The one player to watch will be Malcolm Mitchell. The rookie receiver has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is one of the seven players who have been limited this week.

Later this afternoon, the final injury report of the week will come out with game designations.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Dont'a Hightower will be one of the most important players in keeping Le'Veon Bell in check come Sunday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

Dont’a Hightower will be one of the most important players in keeping Le’Veon Bell in check come Sunday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — One of the biggest keys to Sunday’s AFC championship game for the Patriots will be stopping Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.

Bell has been a beast of late. In the two postseason games, he’s totaled 59 carries for 337 yards with two touchdowns. Dating back to the regular season, he’s gone over 118 yards rushing in seven out of his last eight games.

The biggest key to his success is his patient running style. He will even go as far as stopping behind the line of scrimmage before bolting to an opening.

For the Patriots, their defensive line will need to clog the holes and the linebackers can’t over pursue or miss tackles.

Given he’s the Patriots’ best defensive lineman, Alan Branch and linebacker Dont’a Hightower are the Patriots’ most important players when it comes to stopping Bell.

“We’ve got to do our best to stay on our job, and not to do anyone else’s job and stay in our gaps,” Branch said Thursday. “You’ve just got to do your job for the whole game. We can’t relax. We’ve got to stay on top of our game.”

In the Week 7 meeting, Branch played 40 of the 73 defensive snaps, but could be asked to do more this Sunday. He will be approaching it just like any other game, though.

“I never have extra excitement for any game, any team, because I got here doing what I’ve been doing all year,” Branch said. “I don’t see any reason to change it. Just go out there, have fun and try to make some plays.”

Hightower played 68 of 73 snaps in the first meeting, but it’s also worth noting how much the defense has changed since the game as it was before the Jamie Collins trade. The linebacker knows how patient Bell is and how he will need to stay disciplined.

“Patience is something that [Bell] does and discipline is something that will kind of counteract that,” he said. “A lot of times it’s guys who may have an A-gap and they’re looking in the B-gap and they are shedding, trying to get off because of his patience—not having good enough discipline or getting off and causing those areas that he’s looking for. He has such great quickness and bust that’s he’s able to hit that hole and before you know it, it’s seven yards and he’s pulling the pile for another three yards. Those 2-yard runs, 3-yard runs turn into 11-yard runs real quick.”

Overall, the Patriots defense has done well against some of the best backs in the NFL. New England played seven games against backs in the top 10 in the NFL this season and none of them had a 100-yard rushing game.

If the Patriots can stop Bell, they will have a good chance to win come Sunday night.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — What will be the keys to Sundays AFC Championship game? Just how big is the advantage for the Patriots? Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable preview inside Gillette Stadium.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

FOXBORO — Even a mention by the President-elect on the eve of his inauguration couldn’t budge Bill Belichick.

Bill Belichick has a shot at his first undefeated preseason since 2003. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick will be coaching in another AFC Championship Sunday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Even a mention by the President-elect on the eve of his inauguration couldn’t budge Bill Belichick.

The Patriots coach was predictably all about the AFC Championship game Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium, declining to elaborate on the praise from Donald Trump heaped on him, Tom Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Thursday evening at a dinner honoring Trump.

Belichick was asked, somewhat rhetorically, if he’d ever been mentioned by a President-elect on the eve of an inauguration.

“No,” Belichick replied.

And Belichick’s reaction to Trump’s kind words?

“I mean, really, we’ve got a big game,” Belichick deflected.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft traveled to Washington Thursday for the inauguration and a dinner, and received a shout-out from Trump, who also said he got a call of support from Tom Brady.

“In the audience we have somebody that’s under no pressure whatsoever because he’s got a great quarterback named Tom Brady and a great coach named Belichick — Bob Kraft,” Trump said. “So, good luck Bob. Your friend Tom just called, he feels good. He called to congratulate us, he feels good. Good luck. You’re going to do great, thanks.”

At the moment Donald J. Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States at noon Friday, Bill Belichick will be on the practice field outside Gillette, putting his team through the final preparations in advance of Sunday’s game.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia