By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
The "Deflategate" controversy surrounding the New England Patriots had little to no effect on their dominating AFC Championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts this past January, nor did it play a significant role in the Patriots' dramatic Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks this past February. The footballs could have been completely deflated or totally overinflated in the AFC Championship game from which the Deflategate saga arose, and the Patriots would have still beaten the Colts soundly.
However, the effects of the Deflategate scandal will most certainly be felt for the first four games of the 2015 season for New England after quarterback Tom Brady was suspended by the NFL for his role in the deflation of footballs in the AFC Championship. According to the Wells Report, which cleared head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft of any knowledge of the incident, Brady was generally aware of the balls being underinflated. Along with suspending Brady for the first four games of the season, the Patriots were docked their first round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth round pick in 2017.
While Brady has decided to appeal his suspension with the support of the NFLPA, Kraft and the Patriots decided against a legal battle with the NFL and accepted their punishment. Kraft, Belichick, and the rest of the franchise may have been completely innocent in this saga, but a public appeal against the NFL would seriously damage Kraft's strong relationship with commissioner Roger Goodell. Not to mention, Kraft is well-aware of the need to have a strong relationship with the league for the good of his franchise and the future of the NFL. Kraft knows that trying to pick a fight with Goodell and the league would just not end well for New England.
Unless Brady's suspension is appealed, which Goodell will be serving as the arbitrator for, New England will be without their future Hall of Fame quarterback to start the season. The Patriots will have Brady around throughout training camp and the preseason, but the focus now for New England leading up to the start of the season is to prepare third-year backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with the first-string offense. Garoppolo has the potential to do well with a talented Patriots offense under the tutelage of Belichick and Brady, but he's no Tom Brady. To say Garoppolo will do as well as Brady with the offense is just not fair.
Few quarterbacks in the league, let alone the history of football, are as good of playmakers as Brady is. Brady's ability to make New England's offensive attack one of the best in the NFL is what the Patriots will miss the most in their first four games of the season. The Patriots will still put up points, but not at the same level as when Brady is calling the plays. Like many other great athletes, Brady makes his teammates better. Without Brady on the field, opposing defenses will now be able to concentrate their resources on putting pressure on Garoppolo in the pocket and keeping New England's rushing attack from getting on a roll. Simply put, opponents will force Garoppolo to beat them.
The Patriots begin their title defense at home on the first night of the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Steelers won the AFC North this past season and always play New England well, this matchup could actually benefit the Patriots. Like the Patriots, the Steelers have an outstanding offense led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Despite being known historically as a great defensive team, Pittsburgh struggled on that side of the ball last season and is going through a period of transition on defense. Because the new-look Steelers defense is rather unproven and looking to get back to its stature as a top-rated defense, this could be a good Week 1 matchup for Garoppolo.
Week 2 could be a very different story when the Patriots travel to Buffalo to take on the division-rival Bills. Divisional opponents are always the hardest to play because they know each other the best, and a great example of that is when the Patriots and Bills face off twice a season. With new head coach Rex Ryan bringing incredible energy to a fan base that hasn't seen success in over 20 years and the offseason acquisition of Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy bolstering a weak offensive attack, the Bills have what it takes to contend for a playoff spot this season.
Ryan publicly advertised his distaste for the Patriots while as head coach of the New York Jets and is sure to bring that same attitude to Buffalo. Because the Bills already have one of the best defenses in the league and will now blitz more than ever due to Ryan's blitz-happy schemes, Garoppolo and the Patriots will see pressure all day from Buffalo's defense. As a result, it could be a long day for a young quarterback in a stadium that is one of the loudest in the NFL.
Week 3 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars should be an easy win for the Patriots because, well, it's the Jaguars. Belichick could go in and play quarterback for the Patriots against Jacksonville and it still wouldn't make a difference. Therefore, let's move on.
After an early bye week in Week 4, the Patriots return to action in Week 5 with a very difficult road test against the defending NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys' defense is nothing spectacular, which is good news for Garoppolo, but being asked to go into Jerry World and come out with a win against a good Cowboys team is a lot. The Cowboys are such a good home team that, even if Brady were playing in this game, it would still be a tough task for New England.
In many respects, the jury is still out on whether or not the Cowboys will be as good this season as they were last season due to the departure of Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray and the impact it will have on the Cowboys' offense. But if quarterback Tony Romo is healthy, wide receiver Dez Bryant continues to make big plays, and the offensive line plays well like it always does, Dallas is going to be very good once again this season. Therefore, I think this could be a really tough game for Garoppolo and the Patriots.
The Patriots could go 4-0 or maybe 3-1 with Garoppolo at the helm, but I think it is more reasonable to see New England go 2-2 or even 1-3. If history holds true, the Patriots should be fine in the AFC East once the Brady Bunch is fully back together on October 18.
So, do I think Brady deliberately deflated the footballs and orchestrated this stunt by himself? No, not necessarily. I think some locker room staff members were involved. But, do I think he was informed about this by a locker room attendant and chose to do nothing about it? Yes I do.
Anyway, it doesn't matter now. Unless you've always enjoyed watching Tom Terrific play (myself included) or you're a Patriots fan, Brady's legacy as a class act winner and all-time great has been tarnished. The long-lasting rumors of Brady and the Patriots being cheaters since the "Spygate" days are now actual facts. Having the label of "cheater" next to your name is permanent for life; just ask guys like Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong.
To conclude, I truly feel bad for the Indianapolis Colts. Why? The Colts are unfortunately the first opponent Tom Brady will face after his suspension is up in Week 6. Being that it's the nationally televised Sunday night game that weekend, you know Tom Brady is going to return with a vengeance to take apart anyone who stands in his way of winning a fifth Super Bowl title.
Pat Ralph is a senior at Villanova University. He covers Villanova Athletics for his school newspaper The Villanovan and school TV station VillanovaTV. He also has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph
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