The Patriots Pass the Ball Unusually Well in Cold Weather Compared to Other Teams


Maybe Tom Brady is just a mudder, and a cold weather freak, and someone who gets a fire lit when it’s Uggs time?

When the news about an investigation into the Patriots for deflating balls first hit, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes. “This is gonna wind up being manufactured crap, and I’m gonna have to read way too much about it,” I groaned. Well, I was definitely right about the latter aspect, but when the news came out that 11 of the 12 balls were 2 PSI lower than required, well, that’s actually something. Even still, though, we don’t know how they got that way.

One thing that seems off–why would a team do this in just one game that they were winning big, and leave the balls in a condition to get caught after halftime? It makes no sense. There’s no in-between: Either it was part of a habit or pattern, or it was some huge mistake. As we’ll see, we don’t know for sure whether the Patriots were consistently using deflated balls, but we do know they’ve really upped their passing game in the cold.

We’d like to believe humans are rational actors, but we’ve seen plenty of times (guys busted for steroids knowing they would now be tested, for example) where a pattern of behavior no longer seemed to make sense, but it happened because there was a clear incentive to cheat.

Here’s a breakdown of what deflating the ball could and could not mean. The changes are likely imperceptible to the human eye–it’s not like the ball will look flat (and too flat goes the other direction). If you are going to want a slightly deflated ball, it will be more likely to be relatively more valuable in the cold, when your hands and feel are impacted by weather.

Therefore, I took a look at the New England passing performance, as well as that of their opponents, by temperature by finding the 30 coldest games and 30 warmest outdoor games in the last five years (not including Sunday’s game). Here are the results:

In the warm weather games (71 degrees on average), the Patriots’ passing offense averaged 6.88 yards per attempt and allowed 7.07 yards per attempt.

In the cold weather games (36 degrees on average), the Patriots’ passing offense averaged 7.52 yards per attempt and allowed 7.01 yards per attempt.

That appears to be a huge difference. Against most other evidence about how cold weather (usually because also accompanied by wind and other tough conditions) affects passing, the Patriots have averaged +0.64 more yards per attempt when the temperature drops, while the opponent has dropped slightly.

Of course, a majority of the Patriots’ cold weather games are played at home while a majority of the warm weather games are played on the road. What if we compare it to other prominent quarterbacks who play in cold weather for their home games and are likely to have similar splits?

Here’s the Warm versus Cold splits from 2010-2014 for the Baltimore Ravens (Flacco) Green Bay Packers (Rodgers), New York Giants (Eli Manning) and Pittsburgh Steelers (Roethlisberger).

The average of the other four teams was a 0.40 dropoff in yards per attempt in the coldest games versus the warmest ones. The Patriots went up 0.64 yards per pass attempt. There are other potential explanations, only partially satisfactory, that could at least confound things. Two years ago, the Patriots had massive turnover in the receiving corps at the start of the season, when more warm weather games occur. This year, Gronkowski was working back into shape in September. Things can happen. The Patriots may just be better equipped to deal with cold weather. It certainly, though, merits a detailed investigation about whether this was a pattern of behavior, an accident, or a one-off event.