With the release of the Wells Report on Wednesday afternoon, the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have been increasingly under fire for what appears to be a concerted effort on the organization’s part to receive a competitive advantage via the use of deflated footballs for their offensive players.
In the report, investigator Ted Wells concluded that Brady was, as he wrote, “at least generally aware” that members of the Patriots staff had been altering the air pressure of their game-use footballs prior to kickoff.
Much has been written about the extent to which such a process actually benefits an offense, but a series of text exchanges suggests that the practice dates back to at least prior to this season, and could even go back close to a decade when the league allowed teams to handle their own footballs prior to kickoff.
There appears to be a correlation between a notable decline in fumbles among Patriots ball carriers since the rule has been in place, in comparison to the years leading up to its installation, which lends credence, albeit uncorroborated, to the idea that this practice could extend years.
As for its immediate implications in the future, it certainly appears that Brady is at very real risk of facing a suspension to begin the season, which would naturally be highly advantageous for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers, as the readers of this site are aware, were assigned as the Patriots’ season-opening game as the defending Super Bowl champions. The Patriots will already be without running back LeGarrette Blount for that game, who was suspended one game for his drug-related arrest back in August.
The Steelers, two, will of course be without Le’Veon Bell, who was arrested along with Blount while the latter was with Pittsburgh to start the 2014 season. Bell was given a three-game suspension that included his DUI arrest, which he has appealed.
But if with the Patriots are going to be quarterbacked by Jimmy Garoppolo for that opening day game rather than Brady, then it goes without saying that it significantly changes the landscape, and outcome probability, of the matchup.
This is why we have seen bettors remove the game from their schedules until the situation is resolved, because there can be little arguing that the Patriots’ chancing of winning increase dramatically with Brady under center.
I suspect that many Steelers fans have written that opening day off as a loss as soon as the schedule was announced. Prior to an uncharacteristic opening day performance last year, the Patriots won 10 consecutive opening day games. In addition, defending champions have won every Thursday Night home opener since 2004.
And the Patriots under Brady just seem to have their number. Ben Roethlisberger has only beaten him twice in his career, most recently in 2011 in a low-scoring 25-17 affair when the Steelers controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
Should Brady indeed be watching this game from the couch, I would imagine the Steelers would be favored to win, and an opening day victory over the Patriots, one of the more imposing games on their schedule, would really set the right tone for a pivotal season.
Edit: Here is a link to a piece written by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, who uses the Wells report as a springboard to look at the Patriots’ fumble rates since the league has allowed teams to handle their own footballs. His research has yielded two conclusions:
Point #1 – Something occurred between 2006 and 2007 which allowed the Patriots to fumble the ball at an extremely low rate moving forward when compared to the rate their team fumbled from 2000-06 (Bill Belichick started coaching the team in 2000).
Point #2 – Whatever occurred caused the Patriots to shift from a team who fumbled the football the league average (in 2000-2006) to a team who was so superior when compared any other team the odds it was a mere coincidence are extremely unlikely.