Statistics On Deflate-Gate

Todd Proa Tom Brady

Tom Brady

In the aftermath of the Patriots’ “deflate gate” controversy, a 36 year-old dad named Warren Sharp who runs a gambling website on the side has skyrocketed to fame.  Sharp loves numbers and algorithms, and decided to apply some statistics to the Patriots after hearing about the football deflation investigation.  What he discovered sent ripples through the sports world, and even managed to get a few other statisticians pretty upset.  It could even have implications beyond Brady and Belichick.

Sharp thought it would be a good idea to look at fumbles, which led him to a more refined topic: how well the Patriots held onto the ball both before and after the 2006 season, which was also the year that Brady and Manning pushed for a rule change that allowed each team to provide their own footballs for games.  According to Sharp’s calculations, the Patriots’ fumble rate was 42 touches per fumble from 2000 through 2006, which was about league average.  However, since 2007, this rate has dropped dramatically, to 74 touches per fumble.  Over that time, the Patriots have become the best team in the NFL at holding onto the ball, even including dome teams.

Based on the data and probabilities collected, Sharp says, it’s extremely unlikely that their ability to hold onto the football would change so much and be as far away from the rest of the NFL.  While correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, this is one big correlation.  The Patriots were more-or-less and average team in terms of fumbling a football, and after Brady pushed for a rule change, the Patriots quickly became masters of football control.  In some cases, this finding trickles down to individual players.  For instance, Faulk was drafted by the Patriots in 1999, and played for them until 2011.  Up until the 2007 season, he had 23 fumbles, but after that point, he only had two.  And Brady himself had 59 fumbles in his first six seasons, but only 37 in his most recent seven.  According to Sharp, something clearly happened to cause these numbers to drop so quickly.

Of course, this has yet to prove anything definitely.  Sharp himself had admitted that there’s no ironclad conclusion from his data as of yet.  Fumbles are somewhat random occurrences, depending on a variety of factors.  However, Sharp insists that even taking these things into consideration, his findings can’t possibly be happenstance.  Not surprisingly, however, there are plenty of Patriots fans who aren’t buying this.  Even some statisticians are dismissing it as “bunk”, noting certain flaws in Sharp’s data, and claiming that he had already come to a conclusion before he even started to analyze the data.  According to Sharp, he has no “favorite team”.  He simply loves the numbers.

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