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Belichick’s explanation invites scrutiny, analysis, testing

Pesci

By offering a detailed explanation of the things the Patriots do to prepare their footballs for games and the pressure changes that occur inside the bladders contained in those footballs, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has thrown down the gauntlet to anyone who would doubt his version of reality.

And now the media outlets that spent the week comparing balls inflated to 12.5 PSI with balls inflated to 10.5 PSI will parse through Belichick’s words, copy his recipe, and try it on their own footballs.  With actual scientists, not a football coach, reporting the results.

On one hand, Belichick deliberately has set up what the lawyers call a “battle of the experts.”  It happens in a trial when one side brings in a witness with specialized knowledge who tells one story based on the physical evidence and the other side brings in a witness with specialized knowledge who tells the exact opposite story based on that same evidence.

That reality makes Belichick’s My Cousin Vinny reference even more appropriate.  In that film, Mona Lisa Vito testified as an expert witness who obliterated the testimony from the dude who played the prosecutor in the Seinfeld finale.  In real life, there’s a chance that Belichick will be the guy who played the prosecutor in the Seinfeld finale — and that a looming litany of scientists and engineers and other highly-educated folks will duplicate the variables contained in Belichick’s explanation, come to their own conclusions, and eventually reprise Joe Pesci’s two-sentence opening statement from the trial at which Ms. Vito testified:

“Everything that guy just said is bullsh-t.  Thank you.”

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Belichick now has the ammunition to get his team ready to beat Seattle

Belichick AP

During an epic, unexpected, and entirely bizarre Saturday press conference, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was “embarrassed” to admit the amount of time he’d spent in recent days on football air pressure.

In the end, it could be time well spent.

As he turns his focus to the Super Bowl after a week that has been marred by #DeflateGate, Belichick now has everything he needs to motivate his players to have the game of their lives against Seattle.

“This is the kind of thing that he is able to manipulate minds with,” one league source said.  “‘Us against the world. . . .  ‘No one thinks you can win unless we cheat.’ . . .  ‘The world is calling us cheaters.’ . . .  ‘They don’t think we belong here.'”

The ultimate prediction from the source?  “The Patriots are going to slaughter the Seahawks.”

That said, the Seahawks are pretty good.  And they’ve been able to make good use of the past six days.

“This was an excellent week for us,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Friday.  “We did it just the way we wanted to.  We practiced as though we were playing a game this week so we got all the installation in as we always do so we’re ready to go.”

Carroll also realizes that he has been able to allow his team to focus fully on the task at hand.

“It’s a big deal for them,” Carroll said of the lingering ball-deflation controversy.  “I know they’re dealing with it.  It isn’t for us at all. It has no bearing on anything.”

But if Belichick is able to better press his players’ buttons because of the pending investigation and widespread accusations, it will definitely have a bearing on Carroll’s team in eight days.

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Bill Belichick quotes science, My Cousin Vinny in bizarre presser

Belichick AP

The Patriots raised the bar on the normal Friday afternoon news dump, calling a 2:30 p.m. ET press conference on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

And after making reporters wait 35 minutes, it was coach Bill Belichick taking the podium, to tell reporters, “I believe 100 percent we have followed every rule to the letter.”

Belichick detailed their process for preparing balls for game day, and he said their process of getting balls ready raised the air pressure by one pound per square inch. He then talked about putting his quarterbacks through a series of tests to see if they could tell the difference in balls at different air pressure.

He insisted the balls weren’t prepared in a heated room, or treated in any unique way.

There was a lot of scientific bluster from Belichick, none of which explained why 11 of his 12 balls weren’t in compliance but all 12 of the Colts’ were.

He even quoted the movie My Cousin Vinny, saying he was “no Mona Lisa Vito,” in terms of ball knowledge compared to Marisa Tomei’s character’s mechanical knowledge.

“I’m embarrassed to talk about the amount of time I’ve put into this, relative to the challenge in front of us,” Belichick said.

In many ways, we all are.

But it’s hard to tell after this press conference that we’re any closer to knowing what happened.

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Matthew Slater: NFLPA has “instructed” Patriots players to “reserve comment” on deflation investigation

Matthew Slater AP

The NFL’s football-deflation investigation figures to be much discussed at the Super Bowl.

However, the discussion might go on without Patriots players contributing much.

At a Saturday morning press conference, Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater said the NFL Players Association had recommended New England players not publicly address the issue.

“I’d love to get into that with you, but we have been instructed by our union as players to reserve comment on this situation,” Slater said. “It’s an ongoing investigation, so in order to protect our players, we’re going to go ahead and not talk about that.”

Slater’s response was to a question about “Deflategate” and how the NFL might prevent such a controversy from occurring again.

Slater, 29, is the Patriots’ player representative. He is regarded as one of the NFL’s top special teams coverage players.

No matter the NFLPA’s recommendations, the “Deflategate” questions will come at the Super Bowl. Moreover, it’s likely Patriots players would politely parry them away all the same.

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Pete Carroll declares the Earl Thomas injury to be “over”

Thomas Getty Images

The official injury report, which had Seahawks safety Earl Thomas participating in practice on a limited basis on Friday, suggests that the player is still dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in the first half of the NFC title game.  The team’s head coach says Thomas isn’t.

“It’s over,” Carroll told reporters on Friday.  “It’s over, really.  It was two days of him being very uncomfortable with the setting and it’s over now.  He was back in action and in full flow today.”

Discomfort is only part of the problem for Thomas, as former NFL athletic trainer and NBC Sports Medicine Analyst Mike Ryan said on Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.  Ryan explained it’s not about pain but range of motion, if Thomas will be wearing a harness to stabilize the shoulder he dislocated.  Ryan said that could make it difficult for Thomas to reached over his head with his hands and arms — which could hamper his ability to deal with a tall pass-catcher like Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

For all of Friday’s show (really, I didn’t pick this topic for the sole purpose of pushing the on-demand stream), click the show logo in the top right corner of the page or the NBC Sports Radio logo in the right rail.  Other guests included Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe and ESPN, Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

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Report: Colts LB Andrew Jackson arrested on suspicion of DUI

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

A Colts player was reportedly cited for a potential DUI charge.

According to Fox 59 in Indianapolis, inside linebacker Andrew Jackson was cited for suspicion of DUI and reckless driving early Friday morning in Kentucky. He was released later in the day, per the report.

A sixth-round pick of the Colts in the 2014 draft, the 22-year-old Jackson appeared in 13 regular season games and all three playoff contests for Indianapolis as a reserve. He played collegiately at Western Kentucky.

Per NFL guidelines, Jackson could face league discipline, depending upon the outcome of the case.

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Jets tab Pepper Johnson as defensive line coach

New Orleans Saints Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Pepper Johnson is staying in the AFC East.

The Jets have hired Johnson as their defensive line coach, the team said Saturday morning.

The 50-year-old Johnson coached the Bills’ defensive line in 2014. Previously, he was a Patriots assistant for 14 seasons (2000-2013).

This is Johnson’s second stint with the Jets organization. His final two playing seasons were with the club as a player under coach Bill Parcells (1997-1998).

Johnson interviewed for the Giants’ defensive coordinator role this offseason, but he did not get the job. Afterwards, Johnson told the New York Daily News that he feels “bottled up” at this stage of his coaching career having yet to be a coordinator.

“I have a lot of knowledge and a lot of information that I feel like I just have to keep to myself,” Johnson said, per the Daily News.

However, by taking the Jets’ job, Johnson again gets to work with a top-caliber defensive line. Moreover, his expertise and experience should make him an asset to new head coach Todd Bowles’ staff.

And most of all, he stays in the NFL coaching ranks, which is a good thing, for not having a position would necessitate getting back into the league, which takes time and can stall career momentum.

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Saturday morning one-liners

Valet Getty Images

On this day in 1994, the Bills won their fourth and final (so far) AFC title, with a 30-13 victory over Kansas City and Joe Montana.

Former Dolphins QB Damon Huard says an unnamed former punter on the team routinely overinflated balls, in the years before the “K” ball.

In high school, Patriots LB Akeem Ayers resisted the charms of Seattle coach Pete Carroll in picking UCLA over USC; Ayers has never beaten Carroll in the player’s college or pro career.

New Jets G.M. Mike Maccagnan wants to bury the hatchet with WFAN’s Mike Francesa.  (Francesa seems to think that maybe the Jets want to bury it in his head.)

It’s unusual that new Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo didn’t review film of QB Johnny Manziel before taking the job.  (Especially since it would have taken about five minutes.)

The Steelers hope to apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks.

The Ravens won’t be raising ticket prices in 2015, for the second straight year.

With all teams gathering in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, it became clear the Bengals have it better than most.

The Colts see themselves as the Bulls and the Patriots as the Pistons.

Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis is in an ugly custody dispute, which turned uglier once the child’s porn-star mother learned Lewis is trying to get full custody.

Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst admits to taking air out of footballs; “[T]hey’re more fun to throw.  You can tell a difference.”

Offseason front-office shuffling became official for the Texans on Friday.

J.J. Watt endorses the Broncos’ decision to lure defensive line coach Bill Kollar from Houston.

The Chiefs won’t be signing CFL WR Duron Carter, son of Cris.

Raiders WR Tim Brown realizes he’d have a better chance at Canton if he’d left the Raiders for a team with a franchise quarterback.

Chargers G.M. Tom Telesco says the team is at the midway point of its draft preparations.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo says questions about air pressure in footballs should be directed not to the coach but to the ball boys and the quarterback.

Giants CB Walter Thurmond, who tore a pectoral muscle in Week Two, would like to return in 2015.

Washington G.M. Scot McCloughan is looking at “the whole package” when drafting a player.

Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News determined that the Eagles had the best special teams in 2014.

Denver LB DeMarcus Ware thinks the Bears have gotten a great coach in John Fox.

Lions CB Rashean Mathis hopes to play one more year.

Packers FB John Kuhn wants to stay in Green Bay, but the impending free agent intends to test the market.

Despite being only one win away from securing a Super Bowl title with Seattle, DT Kevin Williams intends to retire as a member of the Vikings.

Panthers QB Derek Anderson apparently doesn’t think #DeflateGate is funny, either.

Players who previously played for Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan remain in his corner.

New Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian says it wasn’t easy to leave the University of Tennessee.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan wore a wire at Pro Bowl practice.

It now appears that Dick LeBeau won’t be joining the Cardinals.

Rams G.M. Les Snead seemed to be paying extra attention to offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl.

From acting with Tony Soprano to working with Tony Sparano, 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini pulls off the rarest of combinations.

Before being signed by the Seahawks on January 5, DT Landon Cohen was working as a valet parker in South Carolina.

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Romo is pressing Jerry to re-sign DeMarco and Dez

Tony Romo, Jerry Jones AP

Tony Romo wants Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray to remain in Dallas. Jerry Jones knows that.

Romo made sure Jones knows the importance of re-signing the Cowboys’ top wide receiver and top running back. Romo told KESN-FM that he’s been talking to Jones “pretty consistently” about re-signing both.

“I think everybody understands how great these guys are and how lucky we are to have them,” Romo said, via the Dallas Morning News. “Any time you get talented guys where you can put more than two on one side of the ball, you get three, four, if you’re lucky enough to ever get five, it’s one of those things where if you can put a group like that together you can make a run and be very difficult for teams to deal with for years. I think that’s what you’re trying to build ultimately is to have sustained success. We have an opportunity to have that.”

Romo didn’t say anything about taking a pay cut to help the Cowboys fit both Bryant and Murray under the salary cap, but one of the things that will help create some cap space is if Romo restructures his contract, as he’s expected to do. Jones is still hoping he can build a Super Bowl team with Romo at the helm, and so Jones would be willing to push some of Romo’s cap hit to future years if that helps the Cowboys win now.

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First Hernandez murder trial could start Tuesday

Hernandez AP

With jury selection nearly complete, the first murder trial against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez could begin as soon as Tuesday, with opening statements.

Via the Associated Press, Judge E. Susan Garsh has cleared a pool of 53 potential jurors.  The judge individually questioned the jurors in search of potential bias, a hardship that would prevent them from serving on a lengthy trial, or any other valid reason to be excused.

The lawyers for the prosecution and for Hernandez will be permitted to eliminate 18 potential jurors each from the panel.  The goal will be to have 18 jurors (12 main jurors and six alternates) in place for Tuesday.

If my math is correct (and it rarely is), Judge Garsh will need to clear one more juror to allow 36 to be stricken by the parties.  With only 53, striking 36 would leave 17.

Hernandez is accused of killing Odin Lloyd in June 2013.  Hernandez faces two other murder charges from an incident in July 2012.

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John Schneider “kind of loves” Marshawn Lynch’s act

Schneider AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch may be alienating the NFL’s front office by refusing to talk after games and then by expressing himself in a specific non-verbal way after scoring touchdowns.  But he’s not upsetting his own front office.

I kind of love his act,” Seahawks G.M. John Schneider told reporters on Friday, via the Seattle Times.

Schneider also was asked if there’s anything he could say about speculation that Lynch won’t be with the team in 2015.

 “No. I mean, he’s under contract next year,” Schneider said.  “He’s a warrior.  Goes out there every weekend and lays it on the line.  I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better running back in the National Football League.”

Lynch is due to earn a base salary of $5 million in 2015.  He’s also scheduled to earn a roster bonus of $125,000 for each game in which he plays.  If he plays in all 16 games, he’ll make another $2 million.

A holdout in July resulted in some of the money that Lynch was due to earn next season being nudged to 2014.  If the presumption has switched from the team not wanting him at a maximum value of $7 million in 2015 to wanting him at that amount, Lynch possibly will want another raise, or an extension.

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NFL fines Jermaine Kearse for throwing TD ball, which he now has

jermainekearse AP

Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse, who scored the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship Game, celebrated by throwing the football into the stands. That’s against NFL rules, and the NFL has fined him $5,512 for it.

But the good news for Kearse is that he got the football back. Scott Shelton, the fan who caught it, gave it back to Kearse on Friday. Kearse gave him a signed jersey as thanks, but Shelton wasn’t doing it for that: Shelton said he turned down offers from collectors of up to $25,000, but he always wanted Kearse to have it.

Shelton himself has become a story this week, as reports have surfaced that he’s headed to prison. Shelton confirmed that he is about to begin serving a 26-month term for unlawful possession of a firearm after nine guns were found when police executed a search warrant on his home. Shelton had a prior criminal record which made it illegal for him to possess guns.

It’s really been hard knowing that I’m going to have to be away from my babies and miss birthdays and holidays and just watching them grow up,” Shelton told MyNorthwest.com of his prison sentence. “I have nothing to hide about my past. I’ve made some mistakes and I’m paying for them.”

Shelton’s last day as a free man will be Super Bowl Sunday.

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Another theory for deflating footballs

Kramer

If, as reported this week by Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, the NFL had become aware of concerns regarding deflated Patriots footballs and had planned to inspect the footballs at halftime of the AFC title game regardless of anything noticed during the first half and if, as the NFL announced on Friday, it has hired an “investigatory firm with sophisticated forensic expertise to assist in reviewing electronic and video information,” it’s reasonable to assume that hidden cameras were monitoring the team’s ball attendants during the first two quarters of the contest against the Colts.

But there’s a chance the cameras won’t detect anything that would suggest the affirmative insertion of a needle or paperclip or anything else into the valve of 11 of 12 footballs.  It’s possible, as explained by Dr. Allen Sanderson, a research scientist at the University of Utah.

Sanderson told Tom Pelissero of USA Today that accelerated deflation will occur naturally if the balls are inflated while at a higher temperature.

“What everyone’s looking for is somebody to have physically altered the ball by letting air out,” Sanderson said.  “We think this is naturally occurring. . . .

“The NFL rules are very much ambiguous really because they’re not specifying a temperature.  They’re just specifying a pressure, and temperature makes all the difference in the world about how you make that measurement.  Us science geeks picked up on it.”

It would be far more difficult to blame deflation on a rogue employee if it’s determined that the footballs routinely were pumped up in a warm room at the team’s facility.  The question then becomes whether the Patriots have internal surveillance cameras that would show whether someone took a bag of balls and a hand pump into the sauna on Sunday afternoon.

Regardless, it’s a theory that the NFL should be exploring if it ultimately finds no evidence that the ball attendants were physically letting air out of the balls on the sidelines during the game.

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Over-Under on Brandon LaFell’s Super Bowl receiving yards set at 50.5

Brandon LaFell AP

Once a day leading up to Super Bowl XLIX and on game day itself, we will discuss one of the many proposition bets (“props”) Nevada sports books offer on Patriots-Seahawks.

Then, we’ll turn to you and let you decide what side of the bet you would take. (Hypothetically, of course.)

We’ll call it “PFT’s Prop Challenge.” After the Super Bowl, we’ll tally the results, with each vote one hypothetical betting unit.

Then, we’ll see if PFT Planet is ready for the high-roller room at one of Terry Benedict’s casinos.

So let’s get down to business.

The first prop comes courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, which has set an Over-Under on the Super Bowl receiving yards gained by Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

The Over-Under is 50.5 yards.

Both the OVER and UNDER have the standard house vigorish, meaning bettors have to lay $11 to win $10.

Now, a few data points.

Since moving into the starting lineup in Week Three, LaFell has averaged 65.2 receiving yards per contest, exceeding 50.5 yards receiving in 11-of-16 games (including the postseason).

That’s the good news for those who like the OVER.

Now, the bad news.

Seattle has given up more than 50.5 receiving yards to just 11 wide receivers this season: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (twice); Randall Cobb, Green Bay (twice), Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (twice); John Brown, Arizona (twice); Emmanuel Sanders, Denver; Wes Welker, Denver; DeSean Jackson, Washington; Dez Bryant, Dallas; Terrence Williams, Dallas; Odell Beckham Jr., N.Y. Giants; Preston Parker, N.Y. Giants.

Of course, there are multiple ways to hit the OVER. Perhaps the Patriots fall behind early and have to pass throughout. Recall how pass-happy they were in the second half of the divisional-round win vs. Baltimore.

Now, the question: do you like the OVER or the UNDER on 50.5 receiving yards for Brandon LaFell? In short, does he exceed 50.5 yards or finish with less than that total?

Let us know via the poll and in the comments, and check back Saturday for the next prop, which will be Seattle-related.

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Dungy: NFL needs to restrict New England’s substitution game

Dungy Getty Images

Lost amid the furor over #DeflateGate is New England’s newfound penchant for playing the ineligible-eligible receiver game. Whether it’s a player wearing an ineligible number reporting as an eligible receiver or a player wearing an eligible number reporting as an ineligible receiver, the Patriots have begun aggressively using the tactic in an obvious effort to confuse defenses regarding who will be running a pass route and who won’t be.

“The NFL is going to have to do something about the Patriots’ ineligible-eligible substitution game,” former NFL head coach and current NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy told PFT by email on Friday. “It is nothing but an intent to deceive and they are doing it very well.  They’re reporting so fast and going so quickly the defense can’t respond.  In fact, the officials can’t keep up.”

Dungy believes the officials missed at least one foul with this maneuver during the postseason.

“In the Baltimore game, [Shane] Vereen reported as ineligible several times,” Dungy explained. “If he stays in the game he must report again and continue to be ineligible. He must come out of the game for one play or there has to be a time out for him to play as an eligible receiver. On the touchdown drive Vereen played one play as ineligible and then played the next play in an eligible position. There should have been a penalty.”

Dungy also believed initially that the officials had missed an illegal formation foul on the Nate Solder play in the AFC title game (as folks like Jim Miller of SiriusXM NFL Radio have suggested), but Dungy has since become satisfied that receiver Brandon LaFell was close enough behind the line of scrimmage to not be “covering up” Solder, who was an eligible receiver on the play.

Dungy also noted that Cameron Fleming, who wears No. 71, had reported as eligible on the play before the Solder touchdown.  Fleming then stayed in the game on the next snap, returning to an ineligible position.  Because, as Dungy explained it, an administrative stoppage occurred between the two plays, Fleming was able to revert from eligible to ineligible.

The broader problem is that the Patriots, specifically against Baltimore, combined the legal ineligible-eligible receiver maneuver with a hurry-up offense to confuse both the defense and the officials.  At field level, the audio from the referee’s microphone isn’t as clear as it is for folks in the seats or who are watching the game at home.  Along with the overall confusion that arises when a team tries to snap the ball quickly, it becomes too much for a defense to fairly process — which is one of the reasons New England does it.

In Dungy’s view, it’s no different than making quick personnel changes in a no-huddle attack or using extra players in the huddle who run off the field seconds before the snap. The defense needs to have a fair chance to know who they’ll be facing, and until the NFL stops the Patriots from deliberately confusing defenses and rushing to the line to snap the ball, the only way to combat the scheme will be for defenses to bend a rule or two of their own.

Dungy said that, if he were coaching the Seahawks, he’d reluctantly tell the players to fake defensive injuries in the Super Bowl to counter New England’s tactic.

“It’s something I’m totally against doing but I would certainly tell my players to do it rather than have the NFL issue an apology the next day after we lost a Super Bowl,” Dungy said, adding he would do it only as a last resort.

The fact that Dungy would even consider that approach proves how strongly he feels about a tactic he believes the NFL should prevent the Patriots from utilizing in Super Bowl XLIX.

UPDATE 1/24/15 7:42 a.m. ET:  Coach Dungy has reconsidered his position for dealing with the substitution ploy. “I apologize for suggesting an illegal tactic to counteract this,” Dungy said via email. “That is not the way to handle it. The proper thing is to address it in the offseason with the Competition Committee. I’m sure that will be done by the coaches but I’m sorry for my comments that weren’t well thought out.”

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