The NFL discovered that 11 of the 12 balls that the New England Patriots were using during the AFC title game were underinflated, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
While it’s still unclear if the balls were intentionally deflated, experts agree that using underinflated footballs gives the offence an unfair edge.
“There’s a huge advantage to having a deflated football,” former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell said on SportsCenter. “It’s like a basketball — if you take a little air out of it, it’s easier to palm it.”
Taking air out of the ball makes it softer, and thus easier to grip, throw, and catch. NFL teams each bring 12 balls to the game and use their own on offence, so only the Patriots would have benefitted from the deflated balls.
Ainissa Ramirez, the author of a football science book called Newton’s Football, explained on NPR:
“The ball is slightly squishier. And particularly during the [Patriots-Colts game], which was kind of rainy, it’s harder to hold the ball, it’s hard to catch the ball. So by making it a little softer, it’s easier to catch the ball.”
Brunell said cold, rainy weather makes the ball tougher to grip, which is why a lot of quarterbacks wear gloves on their throwing hands when the temperature drops.
“Sometimes it feels like you’re throwing a rock in those conditions,” he said.
A source told MMQB’s Peter King that it’s all about the grip.
“For a quarterback on a very cold and rainy day, if he’s gripping a rock-hard football, that’s different than gripping a football that is softer and has some give to it,” the source said. “If you take a pound [of pressure] out of the footballs, that could be a significant difference in handling the ball.”
The balls the Patriots were using were actually two pounds of pressure below the minimum threshold, so the advantage would have been significant.
While some have suggested that the underinflation could have happened naturally because of the cold weather, a Boston College physicist told the Boston Herald, “If the footballs were notably lower pressure, then the only way it could have happened was if someone went in and stuck a needle in the ball and let two-thirds of the gas out, which means it is now up to the NFL to follow the chain of command — but no logical physics can explain the kind of pressure loss they’re talking about.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on ESPN Radio that he prefers the ball to be slightly overinflated, although he acknowledged that using a deflated ball can give you an edge.
“There is, if you don’t have strong grip pressure or smaller hands, an advantage to having a flat football, though, because that is easier to throw,” he said.
Did the Patriots only win 45-7 because they were using underinflated balls?
But it’s not a frivolous issue either. If the league’s finding are true, the Patriots benefitted from using light balls on Sunday, no matter how they got that way.
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