Maybe you have been wondering why, if the air pressure inside a football is such a potentially game-changing variable, the National Football League doesn't keep the oblate spheroids in a locked container under heavily armed guard until kickoff at each game and mandate quality control after each change in possession.
Well, turns out it's because -- contrary to widespread assumptions about less-inflated footballs being easier to grip, throw and catch, thereby allowing the dastardly New England Patriots to overcome otherwise superior opponents and cheat their way to unprecedented dominance for lo these past 14 years -- it really doesn't matter.
On Thursday, Popular Science published the results of computer simulations of the impact of removing two pounds per square inch of pressure on how a football is thrown, travels through the air and is caught and found almost none.
When gripped to throw, the simulations revealed a football inflated to 10.5 psi, as were the ones used by New England in the first half of its 45-7 win over Indianapolis in the AFC title game, "caves in by an extra 0.02 inches, or about a millimeter," said Barry Christiansen, director of marketing for ANSYS, the company that ran the simulations (and a self-described fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers).
“There’s a lot of discussion going around about what kind of advantage does it give? Based on this simulation, it really doesn’t give the Patriots much of an advantage. The gripping ability of the quarterback is going to be roughly the same.”As for the flight of the ball after release?
The ANSYS simulations investigated how the 2 psi difference in air pressure might have changed how the Patriots' footballs would have flown. They found that the 10.5 and 12.5 psi balls had the same shape, air flow, and aerodynamics. So either way, the onus is on the quarterback to make sure the ball flies right.But, but, what about the effect on the catchability of a barely less-firm football? Surely, that must explain why Rob Gronkowski is so much better than your team's receivers!
In a word: No. Modeling how a receiver would catch the ball again showed a deformation of just 0.02 inches again—not enough to make a difference, according to Christiansen.As for the widely shared and Tweeted "study" that shows, through shoddy methodology and intentionally misleading graphing, that the Patriots have fumbled with freakish infrequency over the past few years (which implies yet another advantage to softening the football), well, it turns out that's pretty much a load, as well.
Thankfully, we live in a country where we possess the inalienable right to believe only in science that reinforces our previously held beliefs, and put more weight in theories that do the same -- especially those spoken aloud on television or thumbed out on Twitter and/or Facebook -- than in evidence that disproves those same theories.
So feel free to continue hating Tom Brady because he's a lousy cheater and NOT because he's been better for longer than any quarterback in NFL history, and certainly not because he makes more money each Sunday than you and I will combined in the next five years, or because his wife is hotter than everyone's but mine.
The same goes for Bill Belichick. Go on thinking his teams haven't made the playoffs 12 times in the last 14 years or reached six Super Bowls over the same span because he works the draft, salary cap and even New England's practice squad better than any of his peers and deftly adjusts his schematic approach from game to game and within each contest. It's because he's Lex Luthor in a hoodie.
Either way, you can tune in Sunday night and watch the Patriots beat the Seahawks 35-26. Or 28-22. Or 45-42. (Note: There is no logical basis for the exactitude of any of these predictions, other than their correlation with the numbers I have in three separate pools. As for the allegedly ongoing NFL investigation, WWM's prediction there remains the same.)
Not because New England is perfectly situated to exploit the injuries to Richard Sherman's elbow and Earl Thomas' shoulder, which figure to weaken Seattle's defense against both the power running of LaGarrette Blount and Brady's throws to tight end Rob Gronkowski, two areas in which the Seahawks have shown vulnerability even with a healthy Legion of Boom.
No, a Patriots victory would be due to some as-yet-undiscovered chicanery. Or because it's all fixed, anyway. Or, if you're as silly as this person, you can claim that that single millimeter of pliancy should have disqualified New England in the first place.
Or you can sit back, load up on your favorite fatty foods and carbonated beverages, and enjoy what could be a brilliant game between the two best teams in football.
Either way, WWM strongly recommends that you take a few minutes to watch this, if only to see Marshawn Lynch's expression at 5:15 and Gronkowski's doe-eyed reaction to being serenaded by Conan O'Brien, beginning at 6:43.