If you have not yet been exposed to the work of Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis during the course of the NFL’s investigation into ‘Deflategate’, the informal term applied to the New England Patriots’ alleged efforts to gain a competitive advantage by doctoring their footballs to a level of air pressure below league mandates, then you have been doing yourself a great disservice. Assuming, of course, that you have any interest in the matter.
Considering the nature of the scandal and the fact that it applies directly to a defending Super Bowl champion, in the season during which they are accused of gaining this competitive advantage, however, I do believe that there is a level of universality to the importance of this story throughout the sport.
Since the matter has become public, Sharp has been doing his homework, and his research strongly indicates to him that the Patriots have likely engaged in this deflating practice for quite some time—since 2007.
It was in 2006, actually, that the NFL changed its rules allowing individual teams to supply their own game balls, and it was Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that was at the front of the pack among those advocating for this rule to be changed back then.
At the time, Brady was quoted as saying that “there’ve been nights before road games when I have had trouble sleeping because I’m thinking about what kind of footballs I’ll be throwing the next day”.
Yet during the investigation, Brady chose to feign ignorance, suggesting that he could not tell any difference between one ball or another, as to whether or not one was underinflated. That certainly seems to be bit of a stretch for somebody who is so concerned about the way his footballs are prepared that he loses sleep over it.
In 2006, the Patriots were actually slightly below league average in terms of touches per fumble, but they have rather consistently been ahead of the curve in that regard from 2007 and on, based on Sharp’s findings, and corroborated by a number of other outlets.
From 2000 to 2006, the Patriots fumbled once every 42 touches, with was a very close approximation of the league average. Since then, they have fumbled only once every 74 touches, which was more than 20 touches better than the next-closest team, and is a vast statistical improbability.
How likely is it that the Patriots have consistently outperformed the rest of the league in terms of ball security at a point that can be so easily identified on a timeline that separates mediocrity in one category to sudden and unaccounted for dominance to a level not before reached?
Make no mistake, of course, despite the powerful correlation between the institution of the new rule on footballs and the unparalleled ball security the Patriots have experienced in that time, there is certainly no way to ever corroborate this with hard evidence after so many years. We can certainly speculate and conjecture as to the length of time that the organization has engaged in his behavior, but they will never be held accountable for it beyond their already received punishment, if indeed it goes back as long as the data suggests that it might.