We all know that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots are big, filthy cheaters. (They are also awesome.) But evidence is beginning to pile up suggesting that on the specific charge of intentionally deflating footballs, they might be not guilty.
First up was ESPN’s Sports Science series, which showed how the pressure differentials in footballs manifest in the real world. They found that a typical NFL player could depress a deflated ball by less than an additional 1 mm. Further, the deflated ball weighed a less a regulation ball. How much less? About the weight of a dollar bill. Work in additional air-speed resistance and its not clear that any material advantage would be gained by deflating the balls in the way the Patriots were alleged to have done.
Then a group called HeadSmart Labs ran an experiment analyzing what effect changes in temperature and humidity would have had on the internal pressure of the footballs. They tried to replicate the conditions of the AFC championship game—you can watch the video here or read the full report here.
But the take away is that under the conditions of the Colts-Patriots game, all of the footballs HeadSmart Labs tested experienced a drop in pressure—and the average drop was 1.82 psi. Or, right about in the range that was observed at the game.
With that mess finally put to rest, if you really want to understand what the Patriots have been doing during the Belichick years, you need to go to school on Ernie Adams.
Adams is like the Smoking Man—a shadowy figure always lurking at the edge of the frame who happens to have all the answers. He’s the “director of football research” and if you believe, as I do, that Belichick’s success has been tied (at least in part) to Sabremetrics, Adams is probably the guy conjuring the dark magic.
If the Super Bowl is half as entertaining as reading about Adams is, then we’re in for a treat.