The New England Patriots are no strangers to allegations of cheating, and they are, once again, being accused of trying to gain an unfair advantage. Shortly after the team beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship, Bob Kravitz of WTHR-TV in Indianapolis reported that the NFL would be investigating whether or not New England was playing with deflated footballs.
According to league rules, footballs must be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Each team provides 12 Wilson footballs that only they use during the game, and a referee checks the game balls prior to kickoff.
It hasn’t been proven that the Patriots did anything outside of the rules, but even if the team’s footballs were slightly lighter than they are allowed to be, what advantage would it provide?
A deflated football is thought to help both the quarterback and receivers, giving them an easier grip with which to throw and catch the ball.
“Everybody wants them smaller and soft so they can dig their fingers into them,” former quarterback Phil Simms said in the Week 13 CBS broadcast of a game between the Patriots and Green Bay Packers.
However, it’s unclear how much a deflated ball would help the Patriots. According to Simms, quarterback Aaron Rodgers prefers his footballs to be heavier than what the league allows, and he’s even tried to get away with playing outside of the rules.
"I like to push the limits of how much air we can put in the football, even go over what they allow you to do,” Rodgers said, according to Simms.
The NFL’s investigation was sparked by an interception by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, according to reports. A member of the Colts' equipment staff reportedly noticed the ball was deflated, and told head coach Chuck Pagano. If the ball was not inflated up to NFL standards, it might have actually helped Indianapolis in that instance, as they were able to halt New England's offense, which had driven deep into the Colts' territory.
If the Patriots' footballs were in fact deflated, it escaped the referees' attention during game action. Referees, who would likely notice a discernable difference between a lighter football and a heavier one, are required to spot the ball on every down.
It may be difficult to argue that deflated footballs could have had much of an effect on the outcome of the AFC Championship. The Patriots dominated the Colts from start to finish, winning 45-7. Brady was effective, throwing for 226 yards and three touchdown passes, but New England’s running game was roughly as good, totaling 177 yards and three scores. New England intercepted two footballs thrown by the Colts, which aren’t being accused of weighing less than the required weight.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady laughed off the idea that the team altered the footballs in order to help them beat the Colts.
"I think I've heard it all at this point ... it's ridiculous," Brady told WEEI on Monday. "I don't even respond to stuff like this."
Tight end Rob Gronkowski offered a humorous take on the situation.
It was 51 degrees at Gillette Stadium when the AFC Championship kicked off, and it rained throughout the contest. The chair of Boston College’s physics department, though, tells the Boston Herald that it’s unlikely the weather would have anything to do with deflating footballs.
If the Patriots are found guilty in “deflate-gate,” the team faces a fine and a possible loss of draft picks. Michael Wilbon, an ESPN columnist and co-host of "Pardon the Interruption," stated that if the deflated football allegations are true, the Patriots should forfeit their spot in the Super Bowl.
New England was punished as a result of “Spygate” in the 2007 season. Head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team was forced to give up a first-round selection in the 2008 draft.