When I wrote my Super Bowl preview column at the end of January (predicted a 33-20 Pats win, not too shabby), I mentioned the controversy surrounding the Patriots’ footballs in the AFC Championship Game. To sum up, I wrote it off as one of those ridiculous stories that gets a lot of attention mainly due to the fact that it’s about questionable behaviour attributed to the Patriots. You know, like how Bill Belichick mysteriously has information that no other coach has before games (except that every coach has the same information). It’s dumb, I know, but news organizations, and especially ESPN, love to put out stories that are long on rumour and conjecture, but short on evidence or real coherence, in order to stir up controversy and get attention—viewers and page views.
So, I wrote what I wrote, watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the game, and let it go. However, the league, and the media, did not.
As we all know, an investigation was begun, a report commissioned, and so forth. I remember when the report was released. For the next few days, I read the odd article that talked about what was in the report. Disregarding the obviously partisan rants (New England is, after all, one of the most polarizing teams in all of pro sports), most of what I read seemed to suggest that the report contained no damning evidence against the Patriots organization or Tom Brady. The worst thing I heard about Brady was that he had refused to give the league his actual phone, which I thought was a prudent decision on his part, considering the fact that he probably has personal information (pictures and whatnot) that he’d just as soon not have leaked to the media. For this act of non-cooperation, precedent (anyone remember the Brett Favre dick-pic scandal?) suggested that Brady would be fined, or, in an effort to “make an example of him,” perhaps suspended for a game.
So, when Brady’s four-game suspension was announced, I was shocked. My first instinct, having not read the Wells Report, was that the media reports that I had read must have missed something. It did not make sense to me that the league would so harshly punish one of its most high-profile, marketable players based on little to no evidence. And if there’s one thing that drives me to distraction, it’s when something doesn’t make sense.
So, I read it; all 243 pages of it. I downloaded it onto my phone, and over the course of about four days mostly during work breaks, I read the main text, the footnotes, the (sometimes) confusing charts and graphs, and the appendices. And, although I hadn’t planned on it, I jotted down a few thoughts, as they came to me. Thoughts like:
- For a legal/scientific document, it sure does contain an awful lot of vague language. Later, through the magic of Ctrl+F, I was able to document 45 uses of the word(s) possible/possibly, 21 of probable/probably (exclusive of probability, for any math nerds out there), 29 of suggest(s), 81 of assume/assumption, 103 of believe/belief, and 110 of likely/unlikely, not to mention the 16 uses of might plus the numerous uses of “may” to indicate possibility which were indistinguishable to Ctrl+F from the “may”s indicating permissible or the month (and I wasn’t about to read all 165 occurrences). I know it sounds nit-picky to be counting words, but I include this merely as an illustration. The wording of the report sounds really bad, like it started with a conclusion, and then went out and found the “proof” it needed. It reads as neither independent nor and investigation.
- The report insists that the game officials were warned prior to the game to make sure that the Pats footballs were regulation, that Referee Walt Anderson “lost track” of the footballs for the time that they were supposedly tampered with, and that Anderson was upset. Why then didn’t Anderson insist on using the backup footballs that the report also says that Anderson had access to if he had any concerns about the Pats’ footballs?
- In the scientific experiments that that were done on the Pats’ footballs (for several weeks… holy excessive, and expensive!), the Colts’ game balls were used as the control group. That doesn’t sound very scientific to me, since teams are allowed to prepare their own footballs prior to games.
- After all the game balls were tested at half time of the AFC Championship Game, the Pats’ balls were all reinflated, but none of the Colts’ balls were, even though some of the Colts’ balls also tested below league specifications for psi.
- Brady is notoriously meticulous and detail-oriented when it comes to training and game preparation. The text messages among Brady and the two equipment men show a QB to whom football preparation is important, and two equipment men who know this all too well. It defies logic that one of these equipment men would sneak into a bathroom and spend less than two minutes (as the report insists) deflating twelve balls that were about to be used by a QB who would certainly make their life miserable if they screwed them up.
There’s a lot more, including plenty of anecdotal evidence that is taken as fact, confusion over which of two inconsistent gauges were used to measure the footballs (Anderson doesn’t remember), chain of evidence issues, but you get the idea.
After reading the report, I was more confused than before. I could not, and still cannot, understand why the league, and particularly Commissioner Roger Goodell, went after Brady so hard, and punished him so harshly. After Brady lost his appeal (presided over by Goodell, which makes no sense, but apparently is proper based on the collective agreement), and it was announced that a federal judge would ultimately decide if the suspension would stand, I was confident that the suspension would be overturned (which, of course, it was).
I’m still confused about the Goodell thing, though. I mean, I really don’t get it at all. The more I think about it, the more I’m reminded of that old adage, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And make no mistake, when it comes to player discipline, Goodell can, and does, do anything he wants. That’s why he suspended Ray Rice for two games for punching his wife, which Rice admitted, then suspended Rice again indefinitely when a video surfaced of Rice punching his wife, which Rice already admitted to and was suspended for. In the case of Rice, as with Brady, a court of law interceded to kibosh Goodell’s tyranny. However, at least in the case of Rice there was an actual crime (and a particularly heinous one). But Brady? The Wells Report is nothing that it purports to be; it isn’t independent, it isn’t impartial, and it’s junk science.
To my mind Goodell seems insane, like in that Kids in the Hall sketch where the office guy gets a slight promotion and goes mad with power. I mean, think about it; he imposed a suspension that would have been extremely harsh even if the report had proven that a player was guilty, only the report doesn’t even come close to that. Oh, and the player in question is a four-time Super Bowl winner, with multiple league and Super Bowl MVPs, who is by all accounts a model citizen with a squeaky-clean image, one of the greatest success stories in the history of the league.
At any rate, Brady’s free, and playing tonight. As he should be.
Now, on with the picks. Fortune favours the bold, especially in week one.
Steelers at Patriots
With LaGarrette Blount unavailable, look for Brady to come out throwing early and often, in that patented quick-passes-as-running-game approach that the Pats have perfected over the years. With the Steelers no doubt focusing on shoring up the interior of the line due to Maurkice Pouncey’s injury, the Pats would do well to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket, because he’s dangerous when he’s moving. Winner: Patriots
Packers at Bears
Green Bay wisely brought back James Jones to give them some more depth at WR. Tough starting on the road, especially against such a bitter rival, but these are the games that a Super Bowl calibre team has to have. Winner: Packers
Chiefs at Texans
This is an intriguing battle to start the season, with what I expect to be two of the best defences in the league this year. The Chiefs should be a bit better on offence, but I’m counting on the home crowd, plus Watt, Clowney, Wilfork, and the rest to swing the balance, resulting in a close win for Houston. Winner: Texans
Browns at Jets
I have to confess that this game holds little interest for me. I’ll give a slight edge to the Jets here, in what should be a low-scoring affair. Winner: Jets
Colts at Bills
Tricky one to call, here. The Bills have declared LeSean McCoy ready to play, and if he’s in good form, he could have a big day against the Colts’ run defence. This would also serve to take the pressure off QB Tyrod Taylor. I think Rex Ryan has something special cooked up for Andrew Luck, giving the home squad an excellent shot at the upset. Winner: Bills
Miami is playing on the road, and should win comfortably due in no small part to what should be a fearsome pass rush. Winner: Dolphins
Panthers at Jaguars
Jacksonville won’t roll over, but Carolina’s defence should play well enough to secure a road win. Winner: Panthers
Seahawks at Rams
This is another game that has the potential to be a real defensive struggle. If St. Louis can mount any kind of offence behind QB Nick Foles, they’ll be in prime position to steal a close one here. Winner: Rams
Saints at Cardinals
It’s looking like there’ll be no CJ Spiller or Jarius Byrd for the Saints, opening on the road in Arizona. I’ve heard some dire predictions about the Cards this season, but I like their coach, I love their secondary, and I like Carson Palmer’s chances as he returns to action against a bad Saints defence. Oh, and since the “only talking about football” thing only applied to my season preview, let me say this: If you’re a multimillionaire, particularly one who has achieved at the highest level in your chosen field, and you feel the need to travel to another country just to kill an animal for “sport” (and for a TV show, no less), there is something seriously wrong with you. Screw you, Drew Brees; you’re an asshole. Winner: Cardinals
Lions at Chargers
No Antonio Gates for Philip Rivers, but the Chargers offence should still be ok against a Detroit defence that won’t be nearly as good as it was last year. Also, the San Diego defence is pretty good. Winner: Chargers
Titans at Buccaneers
Week one features a battle between the top two players (both QBs) taken in the most recent draft. Give the edge to the home team here, with just a bit more talent on both sides of the ball. Winner: Buccaneers
Bengals at Raiders
Cincy opens on the road against what should be a feisty Raiders squad. The Bengals’ defence should be able to limit the effectiveness of Derek Carr enough to secure the victory. Winner: Bengals
Ravens at Broncos
Tough matchup for the Broncs right out of the gate. Denver’s secondary and pass rush should be able to nullify the Ravens’ passing attack enough to put one in the win column for Peyton Manning’s crew. Winner: Broncos
Giants at Cowboys
The Cowboys might be a bit thin on defence, but the Giants are pretty thin everywhere. Here’s to hoping that Eli and his receivers can make a game of this. Winner: Cowboys
Eagles at Falcons
I expect this Atlanta team to be better this year, and they’re usually tough at home, but I’m counting on Philly to be just good enough on offence, and much better on defence. Winner: Eagles
Vikings at 49ers
The Vikings are a team on the rise. The 49ers are crashing to earth. Winner: Vikings