New England Patriots

A New England Patriots helmet during the first half of the game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Matt McCarthy,

The majority of America is almost certainly not going to accept the Patriots explanation that a team video crew unintentionally violated league rules by videotaping the Cincinnati Bengals sideline on Sunday, but the only opinion that matters is that of the NFL investigators who are looking into the matter.

And according to one of the league’s top insiders, it sounds like the NFL is prepared to side with the Patriots.

In an appearance on NFL Network, Ian Rapoport said he expects the league to believe the Patriots when they say there was no intent to record the Bengals sideline for competitive gain. The league may be more likely to accept the Patriots explanation given that the use of defensive signals for play-calling has diminished in the last 10 years with the implementation of more electronic communication between coaches and defensive players.

“I do get the sense that the league is inclined to believe the Patriots explanation,” Rapoport said.

But Rapoport did say that the Patriots could end up being fined for the incident, based on the conversations he has had with sources around the league.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean the Patriots are off the hook,” Rapoport said. “They did admit that they did not alert the Bengals, they did not alert the NFL. Clearly there was, at the least, a miscommunication here which would lead me to believe, based on the people I’ve spoken with, that if they got penalized it would be something along the lines of a fine.”

A report Tuesday morning in The Athletic alleged the Patriots captured about eight minutes of the Bengals sideline during the first quarter of Sunday’s game between Cincinnati and Cleveland.

The Patriots have denied taking part in any nefarious activity, saying the video team, made up in part by independent contractors, inappropriately filmed the Cincinnati sideline but has no affiliation with football operations. The production crew, according to the Patriots, was in Cleveland to record a feature on a member of the Patriots scouting department as he did advance work on the Bengals ahead of the New England-Cincinnati game in Week 15.

In a statement Monday night, the Patriots accepted “full responsibility” for taping the Bengals sideline, saying the crew was not aware of league rules.

On his Tuesday conference call, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reiterated that he has no knowledge of or involvement with the video team’s work.

“We don’t have anything to do with what they do,” Belichick said of the production crew. “I really don’t have much knowledge of the situation at all.”

You can hear Matt McCarthy on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.