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Sunday 7: Why Patriots probably will not be getting Saints’ No. 11 overall pick for Malcolm Butler 03.19.17 at 6:00 am ET
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Malcolm Butler is likely headed to New Orleans. (Michael Madrid/USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Butler is likely headed to New Orleans. (Michael Madrid/USA Today Sports)

1. With Malcolm Butler visiting the Saints last week as a restricted free agent with a first-round tender, many have speculated the Patriots should force the Saints into signing him as a restricted free agent so they could get the Saints’ No. 11 overall pick. This doesn’t seem likely, and is where a potential trade comes in, which could have already been discussed two weeks ago when the two teams made a deal for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks needed to get traded last weekend because he was due a roster bonus last Monday. While Butler was rumored to be part of the deal, he ultimately wasn’t. This could have been because he didn’t sign his first-round tender. It’s quite possible the two teams agreed on a trade involving Butler and Cooks, but could only include the Cooks portion last weekend because the Saints needed to meet and work out a long-term deal with Butler before that part of the deal is executed. Once a long-term agreement happens, Butler would sign his tender and the Patriots could send him to the Saints and get back their first-round pick. That would mean in the end the Patriots would get Cooks and the Saints’ fourth-round pick in exchange for Butler and the Saints’ third-round pick. Not a bad deal at all for both sides. Think of if this way: Does a deal with the Saints getting Butler and the Patriots’ first and third-round picks in exchange for Cooks, their No.11 overall pick and a fourth-round pick make sense? No, they would be getting robbed. Bottom line, if the Patriots don’t in fact get the No. 11 overall pick from the Saints for Butler, note the Cooks trade and realize the two sides could have already negotiated a Cooks for Butler trade and pick swap, and the Patriots’ first-round pick last weekend could have been just a place-holder.

2. It cannot be stated how important it was for the Patriots to re-sign Dont’a Hightower. Hightower is the undisputed leader of the defense and who the unit looks to most. The 27-year-old isn’t much of a “ra-ra” leader, but when something needs to be said, he says it and gets the full attention of the team. This is what makes him such a great leader. After the Jamie Collins trade this past season, Hightower was the one leading the way in keeping the unit together and getting back on track after the poor showing against Seattle in the game immediately following the trade. Also, look at who is behind Hightower on the depth chart: Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin and Jonathan Freeny. Usually the Patriots have internal fallback options in place for free agents in case they leave, but in the case of Hightower they really didn’t, which was another major reason why it was imperative he returned in 2017.

3. One of the takeaways from Duron Harmon’s conference call on Friday was him noting he was going to experiment playing a couple of pounds heavier, going up from 205 pounds to 207 or 208 during OTAs and minicamp. “I would say the run area is a key [area] where I feel that I can grow in,” he said. “My tackling could be a little bit more aggressive and I think that’s going to come with putting on a little bit more weight, being able to bang down there. So I think that area is key, and could be an area I could grow a lot in, I believe so.” This could be a sign the team might use him more in a Patrick Chung role, where Chung plays closer to the line of scrimmage and is a major player in stopping the run.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dont'a Hightower, Duron Harmon, Malcolm Butler, Malcolm Mitchell
Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell has 2nd book done, seeking publisher 02.20.17 at 6:00 am ET
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Malcolm Mitchell has a second book he is seeking to get published. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Mitchell has a second book he is seeking to get published. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

When the Patriots selected wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell in last year’s NFL draft, much was made about him being in a women’s book club while at the University of Georgia and also writing a children’s book, “The Magicians Hat.”

Appearing on NFL Network Friday night, Mitchell said he would like to get the book published through a professional publisher and also work with them on getting a second book he’s written published, too.

“Currently right now, I am trying to work with publishers because I self-published a book while I was in college,” Mitchell said. “I would love to get the message to a broader scope just to share the magic of reading and personal experience I had with it.

“Right now I am trying to work with a publisher to get ‘The Magician’s Hat’ out even more and hopefully they will work with me even more on a second book because I do have one and I am ready to move forward because I feel like reading can definitely help kids and people reach their full potential.”

The book Mitchell wrote in college was about power of books, which can explore dreams and develop creativity. Mitchell had difficulty reading in high school and even struggled once he got to college, but when he had to miss a season with a torn ACL he used that to improve his reading skills and joined a women’s reading club.

On the field, Mitchell proved himself as a rookie. He became the first rookie Tom Brady ever completed a pass to in a Super Bowl and was one of his favorite targets all season.

“Coming in, my main focus was just to make the team,” Mitchell said. “You know, no opportunity is concrete. No situation is promised. And from the time I walked into training camp, I worked as hard as I could not knowing the outcome, but knowing I wanted to be ready just in case anything came.”

The rookie also noted how happy Bill Belichick was after the win in Super Bowl LI — the happiest he had ever seen him.

“He smiled at least for 10 minutes straight,” Mitchell said. “And he gave me a hug. I got a hug. I think that’s the first time we ever touched each other.”

Read More: Malcolm Mitchell,
The 5 dumbest Patriots-related storylines you’ll hear before Super Bowl LI 01.26.17 at 12:50 pm ET
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Chris Hogan played college lacrosse. But you probably already knew that. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Chris Hogan played college lacrosse. But you probably already knew that. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Every year, at every Super Bowl, thousands of reporters try and justify their presence by unearthing what they believe to be fantastic new angles on each team. (Locally, it’s known as the “Did you know Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard?” angle.) In truth, there’s very little new under the sun, especially for those of us who have covered the team since the start of the year. With that in mind, here’s our pick for the five Patriots-related stories that are going to be rammed down the throats of an unsuspecting American populace next week in Houston.

1. Chris Hogan played college lacrosse. A Google search of “Chris Hogan college lacrosse” turns up just over 400,000 results. The former Penn Stater scored a team-high 29 goals in his final season with the Nittany Lions. He also has two other things working in his favor: one, I’m not sure anyone loves anything as much as Bill Belichick loves lacrosse. That skill set was part of what attracted Belichick to Hogan. And two, he posted some big numbers against the Patriots when he was in Buffalo. Put it together, and you have a Belichick-type of guy.

2. Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college. Edelman’s quarterbacking career was revisited here earlier in the season when we all — albeit briefly — revisited the possibility of him going back under center as a backup because of the suspension of Tom Brady and the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo. (He did take a couple of snaps this year.)

3. Matt Patricia is a rocket scientist. This is pretty legit, and one that’s been discussed on a few occasions over the last few seasons, especially when it comes to out-of-market teams looking for info on Patricia when he’s interviewed for head coaching jobs. From our perspective, the far more intriguing storyline? His sudden career as the face of a hot new line of sweatshirts.

4. Martellus Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell have authored children’s books. With his ability to fill up a notebook, Bennett is going to be a star on the big stage in Houston anyway. But his children’s book is going to get him plenty of run with news reporters as well. Mitchell’s book club was a story soon after he was drafted; expect someone like the Today Show to track down some members between now and Super Bowl Sunday.

5. The Patriots have a lot of guys who went to Rutgers. New England’s roster has three Rutgers guys, the most of any school. For fans of high-profile college programs, it’s a puzzler: How does Belichick win with so many guys from a program that’s not a football factory?

Read More: Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett
Scene-setting from Gillette: Patriots, Steelers race to become first to 9 Super Bowl appearances 01.22.17 at 2:03 pm ET
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IMG_2185

The stage is set for the AFC Championship between the Patriots and Steelers Sunday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — The stage is set at Gillette Stadium for NFL history to be made.

The winner of the AFC championship will become the first team ever to appear in nine Super Bowl games.

When the Patriots and Steelers square off, the weather will be relatively mild. Temperatures are expected in the mid-to-upper 40s for the 6:40 p.m. kickoff. There is a chance of precipitation around 8 p.m. or around halftime of the game. Wind could be a factor, with a gust out of the northeast expected between 10 and 12 MPH.

Otherwise, cloudy skies will give way to darkness as the two teams battle for the third time in AFC championship history. The previous two encounters have taken place at Heinz Field. In Jan. 2002, the Patriots beat the Steelers, 24-17, to advance to Super Bowl XXXVI. Three years later, the Patriots beat the then-rookie Roethlisberger, 41-27, to head to Super Bowl XXXIX. In that game, Rodney Harrison intercepted Roethlisberger just before halftime and raced for the touchdown that gave the Patriots a 24-3 halftime lead.

Tom Brady is looking to advance to his record seventh Super Bowl, as is head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots are 4-1 in the five previous AFC championship games at Gillette Stadium and Brady has never lost to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Gillette, going 4-0 against him. Roethlisberger’s only win at Gillette came in Nov. 2008 when he beat the Patriots, 33-10, in a game that featured Matt Cassel as the New England signal caller.

Brady has carved up the Steelers in his career. In two playoff games, he’s completed 26-of-39 passes for 489 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall, in posting a 9-2 mark against the Steelers, he has completed over 68 percent of his passes, with 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Since 2007, Brady has 19 touchdowns without an interception, while posting a 5-1 record.

The Patriots are making their record sixth straight AFC championship game appearance and 13th overall. They are 8-4 overall in the previous 12. They have lost three of the last four. Pittsburgh is making its record 16th appearance in the game, and have a 8-7 mark in the previous 15.

On the injury front, Malcolm Mitchell is expected to dress and be active for the game after missing the regular season finale and the Texans playoff game with a knee injury. The activation gives the Patriots the chance to dress five pure wide receivers if they so choose. Meanwhile, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, tight end Martellus Bennett has been playing with cracked bone and bone chips in his right ankle since suffering the initial injury against the Browns on Oct. 9. Bennett had just one catch for four yards in the 34-16 win over the Texans.

The Steelers dealt with the flu all week, as up to 15 players were reported to have symptoms that limited them in practice during the week. Le’Veon Bell missed practice Wednesday and Thursday for personal reasons before returning Friday.

The Steelers also had their sleep disrupted Saturday night as someone pulled the fire alarm at their hotel.

Chris Price has the complete scouting report while Ryan Hannable has 20 fun facts to consider heading into the game.

Read More: AFC Championship, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
Malcolm Mitchell reportedly expected to play vs. Steelers, how does this impact Michael Floyd, Danny Amendola? at 12:04 pm ET
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Malcolm MItchell reportedly is expected to play against the Steelers. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Malcolm MItchell reportedly is expected to play against the Steelers. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots will have a gameday roster decision to make in advance of Sunday’s AFC championship game.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell will play against the Steelers after missing the last two games with a knee injury. The report also adds Chris Hogan (thigh) is good to go as well.

With Mitchell out against the Texans last weekend, the Patriots went with Hogan, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Michael Floyd. This could be altered a bit Sunday with Mitchell appearing to be ready to go.

It seems unlikely the team will have five receivers active against the Steelers because of other needs on the roster. Edelman and Hogan are locks to play. Mitchell is playing, according to Schefter, so this leaves the Patriots seemingly deciding between Amendola and Floyd for the last wide receiver roster spot.

Amendola returned last week from an ankle injury that kept him out of the last month of the season. He was the fourth receiver on the depth chart, but it’s hard to say if that was just a case of him working his way back and not ready for a full work load.

Floyd, who joined the Patriots in December, played in the last two regular season games before the playoff game. The former Cardinals receiver didn’t have the best of games last Saturday, as his chemistry with Tom Brady appeared a tick off. Brady led Floyd too much on one of his interceptions and there seemed to be some issues with Floyd’s breaks on routes.

This reporter sees the Patriots going with Amendola over Floyd because of Amendola’s chemistry with Brady (remember how important he was in the playoffs the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl?) and the fact he has some special teams value returning punts. Floyd doesn’t have any special teams value.

Ultimately, the final decision will be known around 5:10 p.m. Sunday when inactives are released.

Read More: Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Floyd,
Patriots list 7 players as questionable for AFC championship 01.20.17 at 4:21 pm ET
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Malcolm MItchell is among seven Patriots played questionable for the AFC title game. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Malcolm MItchell is among seven Patriots played questionable for the AFC title game. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — There are no surprises on the final injury report of the week for the Patriots.

It has been the same all week, as seven players were limited in every session and seven players are questionable for the game.

While the flu bug has been going around the Pittsburgh locker room this week, they only have three players on the final injury report — all listed as questionable.

Here is the final injury report for both teams.

Patriots

QUESTIONABLE

WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder)
DE Jabaal Sheard (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)

Steelers

QUESTIONABLE

TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

Read More: Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell,
Perfect active roster attendance at Patriots practice for 2nd straight day 01.19.17 at 1:08 pm ET
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Malcolm MItchell was at Patriots practice again on Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Malcolm MItchell was at Patriots practice again on Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Despite having seven players listed as limited on Wednesday, the Patriots had all active roster players present for practice on Thursday.

The only player missing was practice squad defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton. He also missed yesterday’s session.

Practice squad tight end Glenn Gronkowski was present at practice after missing Wednesday’s.

This is a good sign for the team going into Sunday’s AFC title game. The only real question could be at wide receiver as Malcolm Mitchell was inactive on Sunday so if he’s healthy enough to play, the team will have to decide to have five wide outs active or make he or Michael Floyd inactive.

The second injury report of the week is due out later in the afternoon with game designations on Friday.

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

Read More: Malcolm Mitchell,
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