As a company based in Seattle (and true Seahawks fans), we’d be lying if we said that we weren’t following the Patriots’ Deflategate controversy closely. Just two weeks ago, this seemed to us like a random accusation that wouldn’t play out in the media for too long, but with only a few days until the big game it is still a trending story. And as that story unfolds, the data behind it is overwhelming.
Last week, football data analyst Warren Sharp uncovered an interesting trend that began in 2007 with the New England Patriots. Around 2006, Tom Brady led the charge for what seemed like a simple rule change in the NFL: the offense should provide their own footballs for road games. Prior to this rule change, home teams provided the footballs used for the entire game. The new rule seemed innocent enough. In fact, Brady argued it well, stating:
The thing is, every quarterback likes it a little bit different. Some like them blown up a little bit more, some like them a little more thin, some like them a little more new, some like them really broken in.
Sharp found that the Patriots’ game improved significantly in the seasons immediately following. They began fumbling half as much as the NFL average, while all other teams remained the same. In addition, their win rate nearly doubled. When 79% of a game’s success is determined by turnovers, any team that finds a way to control their rate of turnover can control the game. While it’s possible that the Patriots simply found a way to work better as a team, or maybe that they’re just amazing players, the data shows that performance changes like this are nearly impossible without some form of intervention.
The above infographic presents the data that Sharp uncovered. Have the Patriots been deflating balls since 2007? If so, does it matter?