New England Patriots’

The case of the New England Patriots’ underinflated footballs has touched off a hypertechnical forensic fracas like nothing since the kerning in George W. Bush’s National Guard documents. What’s the precision level of the pressure gauge the referees use? What effect does temperature fluctuation have on the level of inflation? What about vigorous rubbing of the balls? (The jokes write themselves.)

But I’m a math guy, so I’m going to concentrate on the math question, touched off by Warren Sharp last week, first on his blog and then here on  Slate . Sharp wrote this week that, one season after a 2006 rule change allowing each team to supply its own balls, the Patriots became superhumanly stingy with fumbles. They allowed only one fumble every 74 plays between 2007 and 2014, far outside the range delineated by the rest of the teams in the league that play their home games in outdoor stadiums. The Patriots were what statisticians call an outlier—a data point so far outside the expected range that it signals something other than normal variation is in play.

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New England Patriots’
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