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By now, you've probably heard that the seemingly untouchable Pats have been *GASP* cheating.

At first, I was really peeved. I don't particularly like the Pats, and Bill Belichick has always given me the creeps. He's like that loudmouth bully from your neighborhood. You know, the guy who, in your darkest fantasy, is laid flat by your brilliant roundhouse kick to his head? But despite that simmering unease about the team and their coach, the one thing that I always conceded about the Pats was that they excelled at the art of football.

So when the news hit about the Pats cheating, my first reaction was something like this: Ha! I knew it! The Pats don't have a pact with the devil, they're just old-fashioned cheaters! Hell, I could win three Super Bowls if I knew the opponent's defensive plays!

But then I got to thinking (don't worry, I didn't hurt myself)...

Where do you draw the line between preparation and espionage?

Teams routinely do hours of film study to prepare for a game. Great defensive players can usually read an offense pretty well--they have tips and tricks they use all the time. Like looking at the center's fingers and watching for that subtle change in his plant hand that indicates it's taking slightly more pressure than it was a half-second before. Or watching the quarterback's eyes and catching that slight shift down as the ball is about to be snapped. Or picking up on the QB's cadence. The same holds true for great offensive players. You see it all the time--the QB reads the defense and calls an audible at the line.

Here's where I think the difference is--those tips and tricks players pick up from film study and experience? That's a smart football player. That's part of the complex beauty of the sport. A QB who's tuning out the crowd noise, reading the defense, and calling an audible all at the same time takes skill. Think about it--there's a play clock ticking down, and he's got to go through his cadence, read the D, decide if he knows if the play he just called in the huddle is going to work, and if not, call a new one at the line. That's a hell of lot harder than having a coach tell you in your ear what play the D is running.

So those cheatin' Pats...it does make you wonder, doesn't it? Something is obviously missing in that organization. Are they lacking the skills, the smarts, or the coaching to play competitive football in the NFL?

Maybe it's a combination of all three.

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