The decision took a while to materialize, but it is here. The Patriots cheated. The Patriots may have broken rules which are not as important as ones to protect player safety, deter gambling, or anything like that. But, although the commonly-held opinion that a deflated ball did not spur the Patriots to victory in the playoffs against the Ravens and the Colts, or past regular season games, rules were broken. Rules exist to create a level playing field and to build integrity in the game. Without integrity, you do not have a sport. You have entertainment. You have the WWE.
There is a preponderance of evidence, which is all that is needed. The NFL is not a courtroom. Were the Patriots guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? No. Was it very possible John Jastremski, an assistant equipment manager for the Patriots, and Jim McNally, an attendant in the officials’ locker room, acted alone? I suppose. But, to believe this, as most Patriots fans will, suspends belief in just how well-managed or well-prepared the Patriots have been in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era. Most football fans would probably agree that no ship in the NFL is run tighter than the New England Patriots. Nothing happens in Foxborough without the knowledge of their head coach and nothing on the offensive side of the ball happens without the knowledge of their superstar quarterback.
So, how can this subterfuge go on without the knowledge of Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?
The only statistical analysis you can really point to is the lack of fumbles the offense has had over the past few years, but this is significant. Fewer fumbles equal fewer turnovers and teams with fewer turnovers win a lot more of their games. According to Sharp Football Analysis, since the rules concerning the pre-game handling of footballs were relaxed and greatly benefited quarterbacks around the league, the fumble rate of the Patriots went from the middle of the pack to another stratosphere.
Before the rule changes in 2006, the Patriots averaged 42 touches per fumble and the league leader averaged 56 touches per fumble. While most teams improved, the Patriots’ rate dropped by 76% to one fumble in every 74 touches. No one in the league improved nearly that much and no one else was within 18 touches. And, we are not talking about a single game or a half-season, This is a pretty big sample size, with the seven years before the rule change compared with the eight years after the rule change.
Other than statistics, if Tom Brady could tell the difference between a 12.5-psi football and a 10.5-psi football, which you have to believe he could, it would give him a little extra confidence on making the throws. Have you ever thrown an over-inflated football, a ball which is tough to grip and hard to direct, versus an under-inflated football, which allows your hand to reach from laces to tip and gives you a better grip that allows you to fire the ball faster out of the chute? There is a difference.
The court of public opinion is already in session and outside of New England, Tom Brady and every win attached to his name have been called into question. That might be a bit harsh. Brady has been one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history, with or without his team taping walk-throughs or ordering the equipment manager to deflate footballs. This was the case of a player wanting to get an edge in any way possible. Of course, you could say Brady needing an edge is as absurd as Alex Rodriguez needing an edge to hit home runs, but sometimes the best want to make sure they are the best.
Many fans of other teams, and the other teams themselves, want to see the Patriots cut down to size. The Patriots seem to have a winning formula which has allowed them to be wildly successful with Super Bowl championships and regular season dominance. In the 21st-century sense, they have been dynastic. I do not think Deflategate, or Spygate for that matter, changes this.
But, rules were broken and a price must be paid to deter others from pushing the envelope even further. They could repeal the 2006 rule change and go back to brand-new footballs being used for games, but this would lower the score of the average football game and hurt the product. And, anyway, those footballs could be tampered with the same way these footballs were. They should do a better job guarding those footballs after the officials test them before a game.
As for Brady, he deserves to be suspended a couple of games, even without hard, smoking-gun evidence. This looks bad for everyone: the NFL, the Patriots, and Tom Brady. The microscope will focus on Brady in the wake of this scandal to see if his offense’s fumble numbers rise. The microscope will focus on the NFL if they do nothing.