How Do NFL Teams Really Cheat?

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How Do NFL Teams Really Cheat?
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Everyone in the NFL cheats. 

I get why people don't want to admit this. I really do. Professionals aren't supposed to bend the rules and look for cracks in the shield to gain even the smallest of advantages. So when Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots get caught up in Deflategate leading up to the Super Bowl, it becomes bigger national news than the game itself. Because people want to think the game is perfectly clean.

But we all know it isn't.

In my career as a player, I didn't hear much about deflated footballs. But I know every quarterback works on them to get them ready for games, and I know if there's an advantage to be had, someone has figured it out.

Just this past week, another story hit the wire, with the Falcons admitting they pumped crowd noise into the Georgia Dome for home games. They cheated.

Was it surprising? Not really. Everyone who played at the old Metrodome in Minneapolis knows the Vikings were doing the same thing for years. Along with that atrocious horn sound that screamed over the speakers under the roof, you could hear the fake noise being fed into the dome. It was loud, obnoxious and made it even tougher to play in that worn-down stadium.

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Hotel rooms for the visiting teams? Man, you don't want to leave a game plan or anything like that laying around on the nightstand. If you leave for a meeting, a team meal or to check out, you'd better bring your notes with you, because you don't know who is sniffing around those rooms.

Maybe it's a pre-snap check list (think audibles for the offense or the defense). Maybe something bigger. It doesn't matter. That stuff left behind will make its way over to the home team's locker room and be up on the chalkboard at the stadium. One play, one situation where opposing teams can get a jump on the ball, attack a new protection scheme or find a way to target a specific personnel group—they'll make a quick change to the game plan and go play ball.

That's why you get fined $10,000 if you fail to turn in your game-plan book on Sunday morning at the stadium.

Don't think it doesn't happen. Playbooks are handed out weekly, and you have to understand that they "travel." I wouldn't call them "stolen," but those things show up in every team facility across the league. I saw plenty during my time in the league. And those playbooks are as good a resource as you can have as you go through game prep. Terminology, formations, two-minute concepts, red-zone routes and so on.

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It's not the only way of gathering information you shouldn't have. Look at the roster moves a team will make, especially with its practice squad. The practice squad is a revolving door in the NFL, and while there are young guys developing on it, there is also a reason a team will sign an opposing team's practice squad player. Teams will gladly hand out a practice squad check for the week to get some new info.

It could be a guy that spent training camp with a squad and didn't make the final roster. Whatever. That player is going to to earn his money that week sitting in a meeting room with the coordinators and spilling his guts on things like hand signals and audibles. 

There's a reason coaches watch the TV copy of opposing teams, too. That's firsthand access to hear the quarterback at the line or the middle linebacker making adjustments before the snap. Free information.

Obviously, there are in-game "tricks" used, too. Every defense knows the "scuba call," where the coach on the sideline grabs his nose like he's going under water. That tells a specific player (determined before the game) to "take a dive" and grab his hamstring while the defense gets a chance to catch its breath and change the personnel on the field.

Against the rules? Yes, but it's simple gamesmanship that shows up almost every week in the NFL.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Heck, some people even think the use of the drug Toradol, a pain shot, is a form of cheating, as it allows players to make it through three hours on a Sunday afternoon. I don't buy that one, but I can see the other side of the opinion.

The point with all this? It's, well, kind of understood in the NFL that teams will do whatever they can to gain an advantage on Sundays.

There's a reason everyone looks up during practice when a plane flies over at a lower altitude than normal.

Are they watching us?

In Washington, we had security personnel walk the edge of the woods that surrounded the practice field, just in case someone was hiding in the bushes.

Kind of ridiculous, but, hey, you never know, right?

Regardless, this league is still about execution. 

As a visiting player in Kansas City, I once saw an entire offensive game plan up on the board inside an "unlocked" office hours before the game.

Did it help? Nope. We got smashed. Blasted. Priest Holmes lit us up. Even when we knew what play was coming, we still couldn't stop it.

Remember, none of this is new to the NFL. It's been going on for a long time. 

It's players over scheme, and it always will be. Maybe these basic forms of "cheating" can sometimes give a team a slight advantage, but you can't convince me that deflated footballs, crowd noise, playbooks or a hotel staff will guarantee a win or a ring.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.

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