The New England Patriots are caught up in a cheating scandal that might just explain the team’s nearly impossible fumble rate.
In the team’s blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game, officials found discrepancies in the balls used by the Patriots. The league investigated and found that 11 out of 12 balls tested were inflated well below league standards, leading to accusations that the team purposely deflated the balls to gain an advantage.
While many quarterbacks have said they prefer to play with balls that are overinflated — including Aaron Rodgers, who admitted that his team has submitted balls for play that are filled above standards — there would be several advantages to playing with a ball filled below those standards.
The chief advantage would be a ball that’s easier to grip, and therefore harder to separate from the ballcarrier. It may be an advantage the Patriots have seized through their under-inflation of game balls. An analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that the Patriots fumble far, far less than every other team over the last several years.
These findings seemed to indicate that DeflateGate could have been giving the New England Patriots an advantage for much longer than one game.
“New England has had an uncanny ability to hold on to the football for quite some time. According to data compiled by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Patriots fumble far less than any other team that plays outdoors, where the elements can make the football harder to handle. Beginning in the 2010 season, Patriots players have fumbled (whether lost or recovered) once every 73 touches from scrimmage, which is 52% better than the league average. The next best team is the Ravens, who have fumbled once every 55 touches.
“Additionally, according to Stats, LLC, the six players who have played extensively for the Patriots and other teams in this span all fumbled far less frequently wearing the New England uniform. Including recovered fumbles, Danny Amendola, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Brandon LaFell and LeGarrette Blount have lost the ball eight times in 1,482 touches for the Patriots since 2010, or once every 185.3 times. For their other teams, they fumbled 22 times in 1,701 touches (once every 77.3).”
The New England Patriots have denied any wrongdoing, with both coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady saying they never deflated balls or ordered anyone else to, and knew nothing about it. The NFL has reportedly conducted more than 40 interviews regarding DeflateGate, but some experts believe the league is lacking evidence needed to punish the team, Brady or Belichick.