Fact or Fiction: Analyzing Another Deflategate Article

by Warren Sharp

I wanted to take an opportunity to simultaneously comment on an article written last week which tried to cast doubt on the Deflategate research, while also playing a game of “fact or fiction” because there is a lot of incorrect information floating around regarding my analysis.

First, the key articles in this series (from most recent to oldest):

The Two Primary Conclusions from my analysis were:

Point #1 –  Something occurred between 2006 and 2007 which allowed the Patriots to fumble the ball at an extremely low rate moving forward when compared to the rate their team fumbled from 2000-06 (Bill Belichick started coaching the team in 2000).

Point #2 –  Whatever occurred caused the Patriots to shift from a team who fumbled the football the league average (in 2000-2006) to a team who was so superior when compared any other team the odds it was a mere coincidence are extremely unlikely.

With that said, let’s move on to the “fact or fiction” where we’ll address prior comments made on the article as well as those raised by a new article from Bleacher Report, written by Mike Tanier.

Fact or Fiction:  The best way to debunk my analysis is to use a period other than the one I chose, which illuminates and demonstrates the controversy.

This is obviously fiction.  The data clearly shows “something” happened in 2007 which vaulted the Patriots from an average team at preventing fumbles to one who is insanely great.  Any analysis which looks only at the last couple of years is intentionally trying to limit the results for, as I will explain below, suspicious reasons.

This is exactly what the Bleacher Report article attempts to do.  The author, for the entirety of his analysis, uses a 3 year period from 2012-14.  This clearly prevents him from disproving either of my Two Primary Conclusions.  He is not comparing the early Brady/Belichick years (2000-2006) with more recent ones (2007+), so he can’t disprove Point #1, nor can he show that the Patriots are not superior to the rest of the league since 2007, because his sample is only 3 years.  So he can’t disprove Point #2.

Its quite strange, because when introducing my article, he notes:  “[Warren Sharp’s analysis] found that the Patriots have been avoiding fumbles at a mathematically improbable rate since 2007.”  He then said his goal was to “neither to implicate nor exonerate Brady” but “it was important for me to find out whether or not there’s any real evidence.”  So instead of seeing if “there’s any real evidence” of this “mathematically improbable” fumble rate since 2007, he decided to look only at 2012-14?

There are two key graphics to look at which I created back in January (the first has been updated with red notations per the Wells Report).  The first is the summary graphic showing where the Patriots ranked in the early period and where they ranked following 2006.  It’s obvious that “something” happened to cause this shift.

But the next graphic is the key graphic which casts doubt on the objectivity of the Bleacher Report article.

 

This graphic depicts the huge noticeable shift of the Patriots fumble rate starting in the 2007 season, and is another of my early graphics.  It’s really unmistakeable, how they are league average thru 2006.  Then they shift to completely unlike the league average starting promptly in 2007.

While the key is the change which occurred in 2007, with regard to the Bleacher Report period, I want to turn your attention to 2013.  This happens to be the middle year of the 3 year period grabbed from the Bleacher Report article.  As you can see, the Patriots fumble rate was actually WORSE than league average in this season.  Why?

It’s entirely because of one, single week 12 game vs Denver.  This Sunday night game was played in insane low temps and bitter wind chills.  As I’ll discuss below, inclement weather, and in particular, cold (or brutal cold) significantly increases fumbles.  In this game, the Patriots fumbled 6 times.  Denver had 5 in the game as well (to show you how bad the weather was at causing fumbles).  That’s how cold it was.  It was 22 degrees pre-wind chill, 6 degrees with the wind of 22 MPH on average.  Those 6 fumbles were a huge percentage of the Patriots total fumbles on the season.

Note that the only game which saw more than 11 fumbles (which New England and Denver combined for in that 2013 game) the last 25 years was a game in December, outdoors in Milwaukee County Stadium, when Green Bay and Detroit combined for 12 fumbles.  That game was played in temps of 26, with a wind chill of 5 degrees via 14 MPH winds.  Five degrees is almost identical to the 6 degree  wind chill temp for the 2013 game in New England which saw the Patriots fumble 6 times.

Clearly, the 3 year sample size is suspicious when sandwiched around the only season where the Patriots were below league average in fumble rate (entirely due to that one, 6-fumble game).  However, of my selection of a huge 8 year period from 2007-14, the author said it was “customizing a data set to make [the] change look significant”.  I believe the opposite to be the case.

Possibly lost within the Bleacher Report article is the statement:  “The Patriots’ fumble rates are low, though not extremely or historically low, over the last three years. Factor in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and the rates get even lower.”  This is obvious.  And guess what?  Factor in 2007-2009 and the rates don’t just “get even lower”, they begin to become improbable to have occurred by chance.  The frustrating part of these counter-arguments is the data is there and easily accessible.  The authors of the counter-arguments realize if they were to take a 2007-14 period, and then compare it to 2000-06 it would show exactly what I’ve found in my Two Primary Conclusions.

The bottom line with this point is in order to discredit or disprove my Two Primary Conclusions, you have to look at the same time frame and, based on the stats, conclude something different from what I conclude.  Looking only at 2012-14 is not going to disprove my argument based on the stats which shows starting in 2007, something happened, and moved the Patriots from average to other-worldly at fumble prevention.

I will jump ahead briefly to a graphic from Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight who used a different time period.  His was from 2010-14, and even in that time period, using binomial and Poisson models, he found that the odds of the Patriots fumble rate during that period occurring by chance was over 1 in 10,000. The next closest team was 1 in ~800 and most teams saw completely normal fumble rates, which occur naturally.

Fact or Fiction: Dome teams should be eliminated from the study.

The great part of this one is, after actually looking at the data, you’ll see why it makes total sense to remove them, but even if you include them, it doesn’t make much difference – the Patriots still are at the far end of the spectrum.

I spent inordinate time examining climate affects on fumble rates.  I went into great detail on the subject as part of  “Argument #3″ of this article I wrote in February.  Please read it before continuing.  If you simply look at the weather analysis, pulled from one done by Sporting Charts, it is quite apparent that temperature has a measurable effect on fumble rate.  Keep in mind, you can’t look at “teams” only, you have to look at game sites and the stats for both teams playing in that particular site.  Dome teams infrequently play in cold weather.  It’s just a fact.

Look at the Falcons, for example.  I looked at the coldest 6 weeks of the season, from mid November thru the end of the regular season.  And since 2007, the Falcons have played in a TOTAL of 4 games outdoors in the Northeast!  In 8 years!  Meanwhile, the Patriots have played 40 games outdoors in that same sample.  Knowing cold weather is more likely to cause fumbles, why would we group the Falcons in with the Patriots, when they play 10 times fewer games in the conditions most likely to cause fumbles?

The graphics to the right make it pretty easy to comprehend why its wrong to consider these teams “apples to apples” and compare them side by side.  Its pretty obvious that studying those dome teams differently should be done.  And that’s exactly what I did.

But, even if you include dome teams, the Patriots are still surprisingly way different than the rest of the NFL.  But don’t take my word for it:

Respected websites with long standing records for being committed to understanding data and football have agreed with my findings, as I’ll mention below.  Both included dome teams, and their conclusions were the same.

Fact or Fiction: This entire fumble analysis has been debunked before and is not accurate.

Absolute fiction.  First, not one analysis (Bleacher Report included) refuted either of my Two Primary Conclusions, as indicated at the very top.  Every article that’s been critical of the big picture fumble rate has tried to discredit it by using one of the following tactics:

  • Looking at smaller, different time periods
  • Looking at smaller data sets, like position by position rates, and failing to sum everything back at the end
  • Critiquing early, less refined studies I did which initially looked at player fumble rates when playing on different teams, for instance.

None of the critical analysis was able to refute the Two Primary Conclusions.  Over the last couple of months, there have been a few well-researched opinions posted from actual “go to sources” in the football data field which further supported my own research:

Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics studied my results after thinking that they were “so extraordinary they seemed unlikely to be true” but after he ran his own numbers, his conclusions as to the Patriots incredible ball security (aka lack of fumbling) was incredible, and their numbers are “better than the next best team by 20 plays per fumble.”  And he included dome teams.

Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight also studied my results and then ran his own.  He concluded my study should be taken “more seriously” because “that author correctly identified that the Patriots fumble rate has been absurdly small. I did my own calculations using binomial and Poisson models and found the same.”  He also included dome teams.

His results suggest the odds the Patriots could fumble as infrequently as they did was over 1 in 10,000, whereas the next best team in the NFL was 1 in 800, and most teams were below 1 in 5, meaning most teams had fumble rates which were normal.  Morris went on to conclude:

“the existence of the Patriots’ extremely low fumble rate, as a Bayesian matter, makes it much more likely that the Patriots were intentionally cheating… and more likely that the Patriots have materially benefited from their cheating.”

 

Fact or Fiction:  Studying QB sack rates show the Patriots had no edge in fumble rate, they just don’t get sacked often.

This is what the Bleacher Report article attempts to use as a secondary argument, but if the author expanded the study to the same time period I used, the results support the fact that the 2000-06 period is very different than the 2007-14 period.  The author says that because the r-squared is 0.144, sack rates and fumbles are very correlated.  I think that conclusion is debatable, but to bypass argument, lets agree and say sack rates and fumbles are quite correlated league wide.  And I’d expect for the same QB on the same team, that correlation is even higher.  In other words, over a sample of several seasons, we shouldn’t see a huge change for a single QB on a single team when compared to a sample from several years prior.  Tom Brady’s fumble rate per sack should be fairly consistent on a year-to-year basis on the Patriots.  While sacks vary, his personal fumbles per sack should not vary much, and should be driven by the total times he was sacked.

But that’s not what happened for Tom Brady and the Patriots.  And I’m going to keep this brief because digging in the weeds of individual players isn’t  needed to prove either of my Two Primary Conclusions, but I’ll say:

  • from 2007-14, Brady was sacked 182 times and fumbled 36 times.
  • from 2001-06, Brady was sacked 182 times and fumbled 59 times.
  • His fumble rate of 1 fumble every 5.1 sacks in the later period was 64% better than his rate of 1 fumble every 3.1 sacks in the earlier period.
  • from 2007-14, Brady did not have ANY season in which he fumbled at a rate worse than 1 fumble every 3.5 sacks.
  • from 2001-06, in 4 of the 6 seasons, Brady fumbled worse than 1 fumble every 3.5 sacks.

In fact, 2006, the year before we see the huge improvement in the Patriots overall fumble rate, Brady had 12 fumbles on 26 sacks, a rate of 1 fumble every 2.2 sacks, which was the worst season for ball security he ever had.  It’s pretty clear that the period thru 2006 for Brady was far different than what it was since 2007 in terms of his own fumble rate.

As an aside, the Bleacher Report article criticized my use of “plays per fumble”, rather than using “fumbles per play”.  It makes absolutely no difference when comparing to the rest of the NFL.  For instance, using “plays per fumble” the Patriots fumbled once approx every 73 plays from 2007-14, which is 74% more than once every 42 plays, their avg from 2000-06.  Or, like the author did, you can convert to fumbles per 100 plays, and say the Patriots improved from 2.38 fumbles per 100 plays (in 00-06) to 1.37 fumbles per 100 plays (in 07-14).  The rate of improvement is still 74%.

Leaving that fact as it stands, it is also interesting that while criticizing my use of “plays per fumble”, he chooses to conduct his analysis on sacks using “sacks per fumble”.  I would have anticipated that he use “fumbles per X sacks” given his seemingly hardline approach to using “per play” stats, but the fact is, it’s irrelevant how you do it as long as you compare the teams similarly.

Fact or Fiction:  My analysis looks only at fumbles lost.

Fiction.  It looks at all fumbles, regardless of whether a team recovers its own fumble or its opponent recovers it.

The Bottom Line

With or without dome teams, with or without fumbles/play or plays/fumble, something changed in 2007 to propel the Patriots toward the best fumble rate in the NFL, one which became “extraordinary” and “absurdly small”.  Those are words from other professionals who studied the data (independently) after I conducted my analysis and presented my findings, which was in January of 2015.

The Wells report shed light on Jim McNally, who referred to himself as “the deflator” and who started working as the “Officials Locker Room attendant” in 2007.  That year is the year after Tom Brady helped get the rule changed, and as you’ve read above, 2007 coincides with the massive change in fumble rates for the Patriots.

The report concluded the Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules, and Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.

Many of the highly suspicious text messages exchanged between McNally and Jastremski occurred throughout the 2014 season, not just immediately prior to and after the Colts game.  While the Patriots report attempted to explain that McNally was just an innocent, portly gentleman with a sense of humor who was trying to lose weight, the truth might never be fully known now that Patriots owner Robert Kraft accepted the punishment without appealing.

Clearly, the data concurs with the notion that there was suspicious activity occurring as a result of McNally’s involvement, and it would be fascinating to see text messages dating back to the spring and summer of 2007, which is the start of the period in question.  But we will never see them, so its pointless to hypothesize further.  From day one, I said the data shows something was abnormal in New England with regard to their fumble rate, which would be a correlated by-product of deflated footballs.  I’ve also said there is no way to prove anything with the data.  But the Wells Report gave us indications that systemic ball deflation could have been the source. To this day, I still have not seen any stats which disprove either of the Two Primary Conclusions from my analysis.

[I wanted to add that I like and respect Mike Tanier’s football knowledge that he has shared for years on Football Outsiders.  He has a great football mind, and I’ve agreed with a lot of his opinions over the years.  I just happen to disagree with his response to my research and conclusions on this particular topic.]

Most NFL Coaches Have No Idea How to “Go For Two”

by Warren Sharp

Instead of the NFL owners debating a new 2 point conversion rule, they should have been railing on their head coaches for dumb decision making which might have made the perceived need to change the rule completely irrelevant.

Commissioner Goodell wanted to change “the most boring play” (the PAT) to something more exciting, unpredictable, and keep fans engaged after a TD before the next kickoff.  The proposals the league considered all revolved around the 2 point location, because all PATs (point after touchdown, worth 1 point) were getting moved from the 2 to the from the 15 yd line in the proposed modifications.  The other suggestions were either to keep the 2 point conversion at the 2 yard line, or move it in, to the 1 yard line.  That line of scrimmage for the 2 point attempt was the biggest point of contention, because owners viewed attempts from the 2 yard line as 50-50 propositions, which meant more coaches are simply going to kick the PAT, making the rule change inconsequential.  At the end, the owners voted 30-2 to keep the 2 point conversions at the 2 yard line, but move the PAT to the 15 yard line.

There are many issues with this entire debate, but at its core, it revolves around dumb coaching. Before we get there, let’s back up to look at the numbers:

I did a 10 year study on 2 point attempts, and found that despite many rules changes to help offenses in the last decade, teams are no better at converting these plays than they were years ago.

For instance, since the strongest rules changes came out to protect the passer and the receivers (in 2010), the last 4 years have not seen the level of success on 2 point attempts that any year from 2005-2007 saw.  Teams are going for it slightly more frequently, but they converted 48% or worse in 3 of the last 4 years.  From 2005-2007, the worst rate in any year was 54.2%, which was a better rate than in any year since 2010.

Obviously, current coaches are pretty bad when it comes to obtaining positive results from the plays they call when attempting a two point conversion.  But another key is the pass-to-run ratio of play calls and successful conversions.  The last 10 years, 59% of run plays converted into two points, but only 46% of pass plays produced the same result.  Below, you can see the number of 2 point attempts by year, and by play type over the last 10 seasons:

(click to enlarge)

The owners are correct that, for the large sample size of the last decade, the conversion average on these plays is 50%.  Meaning the expected points for an avg team “going for two” is 1 point.  The chart shows the total two point attempts (far right) are on the rise, but apparently not enough for the NFL’s liking.  But what clearly caught my eye was the significant success edge for running plays as opposed to passing plays.  Yet running plays were only attempted 27% of the time!

If you want to argue small sample size as the reason for the disparity, I’ll counter by sharing data on ANY play from the last few years (since that 2010 rule change which made passing more attractive) where 2 yards were needed for a first down:

The 61% rate on runs is only slightly higher than the 59% on 2 point conversion runs the last decade.  Meanwhile, the conversion rate for passes the last 4 years of 51% is slightly higher than the 46% for 2 point conversion passes.  You can see that the total plays called for both types is very similar, but running is far more effective.  The bottom line is that, while this is a passing league, short yardage is best battled on the ground and the numbers speak for themselves.

Yet coaches still desire to call 3 times more passes than runs when signaling in a two point conversion play.

The next piece to the puzzle is to examine WHEN coaches are going for two.  The fact is, over 80% of the time, its in the 4th quarter or OT.  The table below indicates the number of 2 point attempts in the last decade, and when they occurred:

Typically, those attempts in the 2nd half are only occurring in certain situations based on a cheat sheet the coaches pull out to look at (again, because most are dumb) to help them know when they should make this critical decision to go for two.  This next table takes the first table, which looked at two point plays by year, and breaks it down into two point plays by margin.  Negative means the team is trailing, and positive means they are winning.  The margin is taken AFTER the touchdown, but before the two point conversion.  (So for example, a margin of -1 indicates the team was losing by a TD, and just scored, putting them down by just 1 point (TD=6 points).  The PAT would tie the game.)

As is evident, there are a few key times when a team goes for two.  Most often, its in the 4th quarter, and in a game that is somewhat close, the most often times a two point conversion is attempted is when a team is down by 2, 5 or 10 (to cut the margin to 0, 3 or 8), or when they are up by 1, 5 or 12 (to grow the margin to 3, 7 or 14).  Sometimes teams go for it when up by 4, as leading by 5 is not helpful but leading by 6 is viewed as more helpful.

While much can be gleaned from this table, note the run vs pass rates for most of the game (except when a team is leading by 12+ points and may have subbed out personnel or is playing far less aggressively):

Two point runs convert 64% of the time (74 of 115 att) while two point passes convert just 47% (150 of 320 att) when not blowing out your opponent.

After looking at the numbers, this study clearly shows that the NFL is trying to see more two point conversions throughout the game, rather only at the very end, and only in situations when the cheat sheet tells them to “go for it”.  They want teams to “go for it” throughout the game because its in their best interest from an “expected points” proposition, not just out of necessity.

The problems, as the numbers clearly indicate, are that:

  1. teams should have been going for it more often all along, and
  2. teams should have been attempting more runs as opposed to pass plays.

If the average running two point attempt converts 64% (except in cases of a blowout) over the last decade, and the average run on “XX and 2″ converts a first down on 61% of attempts, than a called run on a two point play nets 1.22 expected points (I used the lower of the two – 61% – and multiplied by 2 points, the points rewarded on a successful conversion).  Even if teams made every single PAT they attempted (a few random tries are missed) running on 2 point conversions clearly gain more expected points:  1.22 > 1.

Now the talk shifts to moving the PAT to the 15 yard line, thus forcing a kick from the 32/33 yard line.  Over the last 10 years, 93% of 314 attempts were converted from that distance.  Over the last 10 years, 90.8% of FGs from 30-35 yds were converted.  So assuming even the upper end, the expected points from the new distance is 0.93, which is certainly lower than 1.0 (avg expected points from all 2 point conversions) and definitely lower than 1.22 (avg expected points from all 2 point conversion runs plays).

Keep in mind, all of these are averages.  Some teams are better converting on short yardage runs, and some defenses are worse at allowing them.  Last year, for example, the Seattle Seahawks were a top 5 short yardage run team, converting 73% first downs when needing 1-2 yards “to go”.  The second worst defense last year in this role was the Patriots, who allowed 78% of runs needing 1-2 yards to be converted into a first down.

Examine this scenario in the Super Bowl: Seattle scored 3 TDs but went for the PAT each time.  Thus, they trailed by 4 (28-24) as time ran down, and they had the ball at the NE 5 with 1 minute to play, needing a TD to win.  But, what if Seattle and their top 5 run offense tried to score on two point conversions after their TDs vs the 2nd worst short yardage run defense in the NFL?

To score 4 total points after their 3 TDs (instead of PATs each time), Seattle would have needed to convert 2 of their 3 attempts, or 67%, a number just north of the NFL average for runs on 2 point conversions in non-blowouts over the last 10 years (64%).  But we know Seattle’s short yardage run offense was one of the best (converting 73%) and the Patriots had one of the worst defenses (allowing 78%), so converting 67% seems very achievable.

Thus, after converting on 2 of the 3 attempts for two, they would have trailed NE by only 3 points rather than 4, and a lot more options would have been open for Seattle at the end of the game.  (Of course, this sidesteps completely the decision to pass on the 1 yard line rather than run, which ultimately cost Seattle the game.)

The bottom line with this analysis is the NFL owners should be look closer at the data during these meetings to see that their own coaches were costing them games the last few years, both by not going for two enough, as well as passing too often on these attempts.  Running would have led to more success, which would have led the coaches to go for it more often, which would have perhaps avoided this discussion at each of the owner’s meetings the last few years.

[Naturally, the more teams run with success on these plays, the defense eventually will adjust, which will make the run rate dip but the pass rate should then improve.  Also, of course variance creeps into things, as does in-game strategy for individual games.]

Regardless of the rule change, coaches should “go for two” far more often than they do, particularly against teams with poor goal line/short yardage run defenses.  Success rates obviously vary, based on particular offense vs defense matchups.  But historically, we’ve seen teams waiting for the 4th quarter to whip out a cheat sheet to tell them what to do, based on time and margin (and then calling a pass play 73% of the time), which absolutely speaks volumes about how dumb most coaches are in the NFL.  Of course, that’s nothing new.  As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water…” and perhaps we will see more teams attempt two point conversions earlier in the game in 2015, but it remains to be seen if 70%+ attempts are still of the low-rate-passing variety.

My initial guess is, though we see a few more attempts (the trend has been pointing up in recent years even before the change) it won’t amount to nearly the waste of time spent discussing it.  Most coaches, elementally, are scared of making poorly perceived decisions, and would rather see criticism pile on a FG kicker who misses a 32 yard “gimmie” PAT as opposed to themselves after making the call to “go for 2″ at any time other than late in the game and in a situation that’s on “on the chart”, stats be damned.

The Wells Report Delivered an Innocuous Bombshell that Few Noticed

by Warren Sharp

An innocuous bombshell was dropped in the Ted Wells Report on Deflategate which was overlooked by many, but which could be one of its most key findings.

My prior article on the Wells report having “uncovered the tip of the iceberg“, was in fact, an aptly named headline.  As background, after the AFC Championship game, I immediately began to dig into the statistics to see if they told a story.  Indeed, they did.  As noted many times over, the Patriots became mysteriously fumble-proof in 2007.  Their fumble rate took an immediate and distinct turn in their favor, and continued thru the 2014 season.  It was completely atypical from any other team in the NFL.  Running the numbers, the odds of it happening by chance were extraordinarily improbable.  The data said something was not right.

Shortly after uncovering that finding, I learned troubling information regarding a  2006 rule change that allowed each team to provide the footballs their offense would use in every game, whether home or away.  The rule itself was not the thing that was shocking, what was shocking was that Tom Brady was the champion of this rule change, along with Peyton Manning. Brady was quoted as saying “some [quarterbacks] like them blown up a little bit more, some like them a little more thin” and “there’ve been nights before road games when I have had trouble sleeping because I’m thinking about what kind of footballs I’ll be throwing the next day.”

The timing of this was quite peculiar.  Almost immediately after this rule that Brady lobbied for was changed by the NFL, the Patriots no longer fumbled the football compared to the rest of the NFL.

Then, we skip ahead in time to the release of the Wells Report.  As we know, the Wells Report released a lot of new information to shed light on what happened, and determined that is was “more probable than not that Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules”, and that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.

As we all know, the report identified Jim McNally as the Officials Locker Room attendant. McNally gave himself the nickname of “deflator”, he was incentivized via money, clothing, tickets, etc., and he threatened to over-inflate the footballs multiple times in a joking manner, and said if he didn’t receive the bribes, the only thing that would be deflated would be Brady’s passer rating.  He also threatened to go “to espn”.

In addition to a variety of other roles, McNally “obtains the air pump and pressure gauge from the equipment room after [John] Jastremski has finished inflating and adjusting the pressure in the Patriots game balls”, he then brings that air pump and pressure gauge “from the Patriots equipment room to the Officials Locker Room”, and he also then “plays a role in the transport of game balls on game day at Gillette Stadium.”  This entails that he “carries the Patriots game balls from the Patriots equipment room to the Officials Locker Room a few hours prior to the game.”  He also carries the game balls “from the Officials Locker Room to the field shortly  before the start of the game” and “also generally brings the balls into and out of the locker room at halftime”.

But then came the innocuous comment from the Wells Report that would not really cause a second thought for anyone except myself and the now hundreds of thousands who have read thru these findings on the Patriots fumble rate:

To reemphasize:  “The Deflator” has “held his current title since approximately 2007″.  The Wells Report seems to indicate that while McNally has not traveled with the team on road games as much recently, he was corresponding with Jastremski who was with the team on the road, via text messages, instructing him to put into play deflated footballs (see pg 87).

From my prior articles, I’ve made it abundantly clear how critical the year 2007 was to the findings.  By far, its the most important year.  Everything changed for the Patriots and their fumble rates in 2007.  I was searching everywhere to find the change.  As I ended one of my prior articles (written 26Jan15):

 

The bottom line is, something happened in New England.  It happened just before the 2007 season, and it completely changed this team.

 

If you search the Wells Report for “2007”,it only appears twice.  Once to mention that McNally became the liaison with the officials and game balls in 2007, and once to state that the rule enabling a team to control all of its game balls in every game has remained unchanged since 2007.

Now, we can clearly see it laid out before our eyes with references to two key facts which play huge roles in this investigation:

The data behind my analysis of this case has not changed since late January.  Since I came out with my findings, initial resistance to the actual findings from a statistical standpoint have been overruled.  Respected websites with long standing records for being committed to understanding data have agreed with my findings:

Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics studied my results after thinking that they were “so extraordinary they seemed unlikely to be true” but after he ran his own numbers, his conclusions as to the Patriots incredible ball security (aka lack of fumbling) was incredible, and their numbers are “better than the next best team by 20 plays per fumble.”

Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight also studied my results and then ran his own.  He concluded my study should be taken “more seriously” because “that author correctly identified that the Patriots fumble rate has been absurdly small. I did my own calculations using binomial and Poisson models and found the same.”  His results suggest the odds the Patriots could fumble as infrequently as they did was over 1 in 10,000, whereas the next best team in the NFL was 1 in 800, and most teams were below 1 in 5, meaning most teams had fumble rates which were normal.  Morris went on to conclude:

“the existence of the Patriots’ extremely low fumble rate, as a Bayesian matter, makes it much more likely that the Patriots were intentionally cheating… and more likely that the Patriots have materially benefited from their cheating.”

I said the Wells Report uncovered the tip of the iceberg.  When you line up independent analysis of the data vs facts in the Wells report, you suddenly are left with this unsettling fact:

The “deflator” Jim McNally started operating in his role in 2007, right after the rule for the footballs was changed (in large part due to the efforts of Tom Brady), and immediately the Patriots became so fumble-proof it literally jumps off the page as so extraordinary that any good statistician has to catch their breath and run the numbers again because they are almost too absurd to be true.

As I’ve mentioned countless times, deflated footballs  (regardless of who deflated them or what their original intent was) are more difficult to fumble.  That much is completely evident in the data, as well as being fairly common sense.  Preventing fumbles is huge to winning games in the NFL.

As the table to the right shows (click to enlarge), the team who wins the turnover battle wins 79% of all NFL games.  It is the most critical statistic for success in the NFL.  The Patriots are fortunate to be captained by Tom Brady, one of the most accurate passers of all time.  As the table likewise shows, the Patriots have thrown the fewest interceptions in the NFL since 2007.  As such, the primary way they can ensure they do not lose the turnover battle is to prevent fumbles.  Which goes right back to the fact above, that deflated footballs are harder to fumble.

While much has been written and linked back to my primary two findings in my research, as well as my initial response to the Ted Wells report, learning that “the deflator” began his role within the Patriots starting 2007 (the exact time we began to see their fumble rate astronomically improve) was more than worthy of addressing.  Because clearly, this tie is crucial and reaffirms (more than ever) what I said in January, that “something” happened just before the 2007 season.  And it seems to show that the advantage of playing with deflated footballs was not limited to one game or one season, but may have extended all the way back to 2007.