Our long national nightmare with "Deflategate" is over! For now, anyway.
On Thursday morning in Manhattan (why did this have to overshadow the opening day of college football?), Judge Richard M. Berman of Federal District Court somewhat surprisingly overturned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in the "Deflategate" silliness in the AFC Championship Game in January against the Indianapolis Colts.
I'm not going to go too much into what the judge said. The ruling had nothing to do whether he thought Brady was involved in having those balls deflated but whether Goodell had the right to impose such a suspension under the collective bargaining agreement. Berman ruled that Goodell didn't. The NFL never conclusively proved anything against Brady in the Ted Wells report. The only smoking gun really was that Brady destroyed a cell phone rather than give it to investigators, but he wasn't obligated to do so. Brady always denied knowing anything about the balls being deflated.
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"The court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs, and noncooperation with the ensuing investigation,'' Berman wrote. "No NFL policy or precedent notifies players that they may be disciplined (much less suspended) for general awareness of misconduct by others."
The NFL has already said it will appeal but will not seek an injunction that would keep Brady off the field for the season opener next Thursday at home against the Steelers. It's highly doubtful Berman would issue an injunction regardless. This decision is surprising in that most legal experts, at least when all these proceedings started, thought the NFL would win and that Goodell had the power. But Berman seemed to keep hammering NFL lawyers during the various proceedings. Apparently that was foreshadowing.
It's yet another loss in court or to an arbitrator that undercuts Goodell's authority, and you have to wonder if his job might be on shaky ground. I guarantee you in the next CBA negotiations that the NFLPA is going to demand that the commissioner's power is all but wiped out in matters of player discipline. This also could open the floodgates to other appeals. Already, there are reports that Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy is considering an appeal of his four-game suspension in the wake of the Brady decision. Perhaps Hardy can at least get an injunction to play in the season opener.
So what does all this mean at sportsbooks? Most had New England as a 3-point favorite against the Steelers if a line was posted.At BetOnline, it is now 7. The total has risen from around 48.5 to 51. Obviously, the New England offense figures to score more with Brady under center than Jimmy Garoppolo. The latter had a nice preseason, though, so at least the Pats can feel pretty good if Brady were to have to miss a game this season due to injury. He hasn't since tearing up his knee in the 2008 season opener.
New England's "over/under" wins total had been off the board but is now posted at 10.5, with the over a -150 favorite. Keep in mind that the Patriots have one of the easiest home schedules in the NFL by their opponents' 2014 winning percentage. So run the table there and they need only go 3-5 on the road to top 10.5 wins.
This result may not just affect the Patriots' 2015 win totals. Obviously, it also could their first four opponents. I think the Steelers would have won in Foxboro against Garoppolo. Now I don't. That Week 2 Patriots game in Buffalo looked like a potential loss. But now that it's Brady against Tyrod Taylor? New England probably would beat visiting Jacksonville in Week 3 with anyone under center. Then the Pats are on the Week 4 bye before visiting Dallas on Oct. 11. That would be Hardy's debut if he doesn't go the legal route on his suspension.
The Pats are -210 to win the AFC East, with Miami second at +350 -- the Dolphins are the big losers here in my mind. Instead of them perhaps having a three-game lead over the Patriots when Brady returned, now it might be just one (or none). Miami should win its first four at Washington, at Jacksonville, home to Buffalo and home to the Jets. Four pretty shaky QBs -- Kirk Cousins, Blake Bortles, Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick, respectively -- against that Miami defense there.
New England also has passed Indianapolis as the AFC favorite at +325, with the Colts at +350. The Pats are third-favorites at +800 to win Super Bowl 50 behind Seattle (+450) and Green Bay (+600).
Brady's individual statistical props had been off the board but should now be posted later Thursday. I will touch more on those previewing the season opener next week. At Bovada, Brady is +1000 to win NFL MVP honors and +1200 to lead the league in passing yards. I don't recommend either of those because of a weak group of receivers and such a reliance on injury-prone Rob Gronkowski.
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