Deflated: the Statistically Impossible Patriots Fumble Record

Patriots partisans are deflating the deflation controversy by arguing that their impermissible deflation of the footballs wasn't what allowed them to beat an overmatched Colts team.  Perhaps. But a new statistical analysis reveals that if it weren't for deflation of the footballs, the Patriots might not have even been playing a series of home playoff games as the top seed.  Careful analytics reveal that suddenly in 2007, a strange and statistically impossible phenomena began to occur at Patriots games. (fumbles, fumbles lost, and more).

Sharp Football Analysis has a statistical analysis that backs up the conclusions of football legends Fran Tarkenton and Jerome Bettis: the Patriots' success over the last decade is due in some (or large) part to cheating.  This is bad news for the NFL and for fans of every team that has been on the losing end of Patriot schemes, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were denied multiple trips to the Super Bowl by the Patriots in AFC Championship games during the height of the first Patriot videotape cheating scandal.

Sharp Football Analysis analysis looked at the rate of fumbles by the Patriots offense over the last decade.  The analysis had a number of shocking conclusions.  First, the Patriots fumble only at a rate of once every 187 offensive snaps.  As Sharp's puts it, this is literally off the charts.  It is a statistical outlier right from a statistics textbook.

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Sharp Football Analysis:

One can CLEARLY SEE the Patriots, visually, are off the chart. There is no other team even close to being near to their rate of 187 offensive plays (passes+rushes+sacks) per fumble. The league average is 105 plays/fumble. Most teams are within 21 plays of that number.

The odds of such a statistical distribution were calculated at one in 16,233.  That's a comma, not a decimal.  Sixteen thousand two hundred and thirty three to one.

Patriots partisans might crow -- well, what good does deflating a football do?  Simple.  It creates angles on a football that didn't exist when playing by the rules and allows a runner, passer, center, and, most importantly, a quarterback to better grip the ball.  With the avoidance of turnovers being so central to winning football, a deflated football helps you win.

But it gets worse for Brady and the Patriots.  Sharp Football Analysis was able to trace the emergence of this phenomena to a bright-line date: 2007.  Starting in 2007, the Patriots suddenly began to hold onto the football at a statistical rate likely to occur 1 time in 16,233.  A rational person might conclude this is the moment when someone on the Patriots cooked up the scheme to illegally deflate the ball:

As you can see, the Patriots won their Super Bowls having a below average rate of fumbles lost given today’s average of 105 plays/game. But in 2007, something happened to propel them to a much better rate (you’ll remember, that just so happened to be the same year they went 16-0 in the regular season). But even looking at these numbers, its clear how insane the 187 number is: they are almost running 100 MORE plays without a single fumble as compared to the 2002-2006 period when they won 2 of their 3 Super Bowls.

To further illustrate how these numbers are astonishing, the below graphics lay out clearly how far off the Patriots are from the rest of the league. Its evident to the eye how far removed they are from the norm. Whether we look at a histogram laying it out, where the Patriots and their 187 plays/fumble is far from the “bell shaped curve”:

When you consider that the Patriots play in cold, messy weather much of the season, having an advantage that visiting teams do not have creates even further separation from the rest of the NFL on game day in New England. The Pats have performed like a domed team in the worst of conditions.

sSharp Football Analysis answers the inevitable Patriots partisans:

Could the Patriots be so good that they just defy the numbers? As my friend theorized: Perhaps they’ve invented a revolutionary in-house way to protect the ball, or perhaps they’ve intentionally stocked their skill positions with players who don’t have a propensity to fumble. Or perhaps still, they call plays which intentionally result in a lower percentage of fumbles. Or maybe its just that they play with deflated footballs on offense. ... But regardless of what, specifically, is causing these numbers, the fact remains: this is an extremely abnormal occurrence and is NOT simply random fluctuation.

Unlike Barry Bonds and other baseball cheaters, Brady and Bill Belichick are certain to wind up in the Hall of Fame someday.  But they'll never be able to escape from the data that will follow them there.

[Update: in response to the comment below -- each team in the NFL uses their own chosen balls while on offense.  Sometimes these balls even have the logo of the team on them.  Thus, the advantage would NOT flow both ways.]