Need more information on the pregame process. One of the key unanswered questions is the process that referee Walt Anderson and his staff underwent when inspecting the footballs before the AFC Championship Game. Did they test the air pressure of each ball? Just feel them? If they went through a thorough air pressure check of each football, and then conducted the same air pressure check during the game/after the game to find the footballs now had less than 2 pounds per square inch than what they initially did, that would be significant.
Difference between supplying underinflated footballs and altering them; officials' role in the process. The reason that more information on the pregame process is critical is that it would help clarify if the Patriots simply supplied underinflated footballs or if the footballs were manipulated in some form after they were inspected. From this viewpoint, the Patriots would still be held accountable for supplying underinflated footballs, but it would yield a lesser penalty when compared to potentially altering the footballs after they were inspected. The reason is that while teams should be supplying footballs that meet specifications, there is also a responsibility on the part of the officials to regulate that. That's why they have the pregame check in the first place. Officials also touch the football on every play, so they are a big part of this story, too.
Comparing Patriots footballs to Colts footballs. There's always the chance that weather conditions/elements could lead to a reduction in the air pressure of the football. So it would be helpful to know the air pressure of the footballs the Colts used in the game for a comparison -- both from the pregame inspection and a postgame inspection.
Quarterbacks are particular about their footballs. We know about Eli Manning's process with footballs from a 2013 New York Times piece. On the CBS broadcast of the Patriots-Packers game on Nov. 30, broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms talked about Aaron Rodgers' preferences for an overinflated football. In the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, writer Rick Stroud relayed a story about how quarterback Brad Johnson altered footballs leading into a Super Bowl, paying $7,500 to do so. So we know many quarterbacks are specific in this area and Tom Brady is as well when it comes to how the footballs he uses in a game are broken in. That all seems fair game, as long as the air pressure of the football is within regulations.
Didn't have an impact on the game. It goes without saying, even though Colts tight end Dwayne Allen said it, the deflated footballs had no impact on the outcome of the AFC Championship Game. This is more of an issue of "integrity of the game" when it comes to either supplying footballs within the rules/potentially altering the footballs after they have been inspected.
Patriots always going to be under the microscope. Based on history and their consistent success, a story like this gains more traction with the Patriots than most (if not all) others. For example, if the same thing that happened in the Panthers-Vikings game from November occurred in a Patriots game -- when heaters were used on footballs on the sideline -- it's safe to say we would have heard a lot more about it. So there is a balance here between separating the key facts of what the NFL is looking into and how the Patriots are perceived.
Analyzing incomplete information. At this point, we have incomplete information and more facts are needed to make a final judgment. From this viewpoint, this is the greatest challenge in the 24/7 news cycle we now live in. It's obviously too early to rush to any judgment, but when 11 of 12 footballs come in under weight, it naturally raises questions as to how that can be the case.