By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Here’s what we know: 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots on Sunday night were not inflated to the proper level, as laid out by the NFL rulebook.

Here’s what we don’t know: anything else.

You see, the 24/7 Hot Take Cycle requires anyone and everyone to rattle off fiery opinions that move the needle, before they gather the necessary information to establish an informed judgment. Michael Wilbon thinks the Patriots should forfeit their spot in the Super Bowl. So does some guy from USA Today. Bob Kravitz thinks Bill Belichick should be fired.

These people are crazy.

We’re talking about footballs here, people. Footballs that were handled every single snap by a side judge and an umpire before being spotted for play yet did not raise any suspicions until the Colts reportedly launched a complaint.

There’s no denying the fact the balls were not inflated to the standard level, but there remains much to be discovered about how common such a manipulation might be. In just 36 hours or so since “DeflateGate” broke, we’ve learned that Aaron Rodgers likes to overinflate footballs and hopes the officials don’t notice during pregame inspections, we’ve learned that the Vikings and/or Panthers used heaters on footballs on a cold Sunday this season and their only punishment was a reminder that they should not do this again, we’ve learned that Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson paid $7,500 to some equipment managers to scuff up and age about 100 footballs used in Super Bowl XXXVII with nobody suggesting the Buccaneers should relinquish that championship, and we learned that Eli Manning’s footballs take months of manipulation to prepare for game use.

On Sunday morning, none of us knew any of this or cared about it. But now that the Patriots have been accused of something, it’s become the No. 1 issue in professional football.

It is, frankly, bizarre.

What’s being overlooked more than anything is the fact that after every single offensive play, a linesman picks up the football and either tosses it to the umpire to be spotted for the next play inside the hashes or tosses it out of bounds to a ball boy, who in turn throws a new football into play. The linesman then throws that ball to the umpire to spot it for the next play. This happens every play, yet the officials on the field noticed nothing odd about the footballs until the Colts complaint (the chain of complaint reportedly went D’Qwell Jackson to head coach Chuck Pagano to GM Ryan Grigson to NFL director of football operation Mike Kensil). If the team being accused wasn’t the Patriots, that part of the story likely would take some precedence in discussions.

Nevertheless, after Chris Mortensen’s report, it’s clear that this is a real story in the NFL. So, here’s a glance at a few different scenarios, and where the blame should fall in each. And for those who don’t know, an NFL official inspects all game balls before they’re put into play, which is a key factor in judging all of these scenarios.

Scenario: The Patriots submitted the underinflated game balls for inspection, the footballs were approved by the officials and then put into the game.

If this were the case, it’s impossible to fault the Patriots. That would be like saying the Patriots are cheaters because Nate Solder held Terrell Suggs on a few plays but did not get flagged for it. If the officials gave the footballs a once-over, then it’s their fault that the non-standard balls were put into play. Again, based on the half-dozen stories that have come out in the past day, it stands to reason that officials don’t carefully inspect each and every football for every game, because a slightly deflated or overinflated football is a matter of comfort for the quarterback that is regularly accommodated.

Belichick Blame Scale: 1 out of 5 Deflated Footballs

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Scenario: The Patriots submitted the game balls at the proper inflation rate, the balls were approved, and then the Patriots somehow manipulated the footballs to take the air out.

For this to have been the case, the ball boys on the sideline will have had to have stuck a needle in the inflation hole on the sideline to subtly and sneakily drain some air out of the balls. Possible? Of course. Plausible? Not really.

But if this was the case, if the Patriots did in fact intentionally go out of their way to change the balls in play, then they are 100 percent guilty and worthy of punishment.

Belichick Blame Scale: 5 out of 5 Deflated Footballs

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Scenario: The Patriots submitted footballs for the game that were on the low threshold of the allowed PSI. Over the course of the game, and by the time they were analyzed a day or so later, they had lost some air.

This scenario seems both likely and impossible. On the one hand, temperatures dropped into the 30s during the game, and there was steady rainfall at times. Between getting thrown, squeezed, spiked, dropped, tossed, thrown in a bag, handled and everything else that happens to a football during a game, it stands to reason that it’s not going to be quite as inflated at the end of a game than it was beforehand.

On the other hand, the likelihood that 11 of 12 footballs suffered this deflated fate seems low. I’ve also heard some people suggest that perhaps the gauge was broken, and the readings are therefore inaccurate. That type of argument would likely hold up in the court of law, where truths must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but we’re not dealing with the justice system here.

One question to which we don’t have an answer: How did the Colts’ footballs measure out in terms of PSI? It certainly seems possible that footballs would lose some inflation after being used in a game and then being transported to whatever location the balls were examined. If the Colts’ footballs checked in under the limits, then there’s obviously no story here.

Overall, I wouldn’t put much stock into this argument, but if it were to be true, the Patriots would be close to blameless for using footballs that were at or just below the legal threshold for PSI.

Belichick Blame Scale: 2 out of 5 Deflated Footballs

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Scenario: Tom Brady got into somebody’s (equipment manager, ball boy, etc.) ear and worked out a way to get the balls slightly deflated for the game after they had been inspected by the NFL officials.

The one common theme in all of the stories mentioned earlier is that the manipulation of footballs is all about the quarterback’s comfort. Eli likes it rubbed for 45 minutes, then soaked, then brushed again, then taken to a high-speed electric scrubbing wheel. Then all of that is repeated. Twice. After all of those steps, some of the footballs are deemed worthy for game action by Eli.

Is there any clearer picture that quarterbacks are bit obsessed with the condition of their footballs?

So is it much of a stretch to believe that the conditions of the footballs are such that the quarterback/face of the franchise/adopted son of Belichick and Robert Kraft is afforded the leeway by his bosses to adjust the footballs as he sees fit? And isn’t Brady a much more realistic “culprit” to this thing than the head coach?

Johnson, I think we’ve blown this investigation right out of the water.

Belichick Blame Scale: 0 out of 5 Deflated Footballs

Brady Blame Scale: 5 out of 5 Deflated Footballs

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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