Unless your mailing address over the past month was downtown Ittoqqortoormiit (it's in Greenland), you've no doubt heard plenty about Deflategate, the "scandal" surrounding the under-inflated footballs used by the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship Game.
Deflategate may have dominated the headlines in the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, but meanwhile another scandal has emerged, this one involving the Atlanta Falcons.
And this burgeoning scandal makes the PSI in a dozen footballs look like so much hot air by comparison.
As the Associated Press reports (via The New York Times), the Falcons have essentially admitted to pumping fake crowd noise into the Georgia Dome in an effort to rattle opposing offenses during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
The NFL has yet to release the findings of its internal investigation, but team owner Arthur Blank all but confessed to the AP that the team is indeed guilty of doing so.
It's not really a fine line. I think what we've done in 2013 and 2014 was wrong. Anything that affects the competitive balance and fairness on the field, we're opposed to, as a league, as a club and as an owner. It's obviously embarrassing but beyond embarrassing it doesn't represent our culture and what we're about.
Given Blank's "confession," it's a fair bet that when the NFL's report is released, it isn't going to paint the team in a favorable light.
And assuming that's the case, several pundits, including Bleacher Report's Jason Cole, suggested that this is worse than anything the Patriots may or may not have done to those footballs:
I'm inclined to agree, for a couple of reasons.
First, for all the hand-wringing, finger-pointing and righteous indignation that was tossed about over the past few weeks, we still have no proof that the Patriots intentionally under-inflated footballs.
We know that 11 of the 12 footballs were under-inflated when checked at halftime of the AFC title game (some more than others). With that said, we don't know if those balls were under-inflated when the officials inspected (and cleared) the balls for use prior to kickoff.
In short, there's no evidence of intent. Everyone just assumed that the post-Spygate Patriots cheated.
There's no such uncertainty here. The team's owner has stated publicly that the Falcons circumvented league rules in an effort to gain a competitive edge over their opponents.
That's cheating, folks.
And yet, as ESPN's Mike Greenberg points out, the villagers have yet to descend on the Georgia Dome with their pitchforks and torches:
Blank's admission is doubly concerning when you consider that Blank is a member of the NFL's competition committee. He doesn't just know the rules—he helps make them.
Of course, as Blank told ESPN, he takes this very seriously:
Of course it bothers me. Absolutely it bothers me. We have great respect for the shield and the integrity of the game; the integrity of competition. So that bothers me a great deal. We will deal with it.
Others took a somewhat different view:
Personally, I'm not going to take the bait one way or another. If nothing else, all the conclusion-jumping that occurred with the Patriots should serve as a cautionary tale regarding rash judgments before all the facts are in.
With that said though, Blank is one of the more "hands-on" owners in the NFL. Make of that what you will.
This also isn't the first time an NFL team has been accused of pumping up the volume. As Judy Battista reported for the New York Times, back in 2007 the Indianapolis Colts were accused of doing the exact same thing.
However, the Colts were cleared by the NFL, with CBS Sports taking the heat for the noises heard during the matchup with the Patriots that brought about the accusations.
Yes, the Patriots—because of course it was.
In fact, as recently as last October those accusations resurfaced, although head coach Chuck Pagano dismissed them while speaking to reporters:
"I think it’s more of an insult to our 12th man, if you will. I think it's calling out our fans, which I think are the best fans in the National Football League. So let’s see how our 12th man reacts to that insult."
Still, after the original accusations back in 2007, then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a memo to all 32 teams. Use fake crowd noise, and you risk forfeiting draft picks.
And that's exactly what some feel needs to happen:
Losing a top-10 pick would be a severe punishment, and it's rather unlikely to happen. Unless, that is, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decides a message needs to be sent in light of this, the Pats' football scandal and the reportedly illegal text messages the Cleveland Browns have been accused of sending during games.
And a message needs to be sent.
I'm not going to sit here and pretend that NFL teams don't cheat. It was naive to think that the Patriots are the only team in NFL history to bend (or even break) the rules.
Like it or not, cheating is a part of the game.
With that said, though, there's no evidence (that we know of) to indicate that the Patriots intentionally used footballs that they knew were in violation of NFL rules. All the Browns demonstrated with their text messages to the sidelines regarding play calls is that the organization is a hot mess.
Leave it to Cleveland to screw up cheating.
However, from all indications the Falcons tried to gain an in-game edge by flouting the league's rules.
And that has to be punished—severely. Otherwise there's no point in having rules to begin with.
The worst part of all this? As Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out, Atlanta's cheating was about as effective as Cleveland's:
It being impossible to rattle an opponent with the collective groans of 70,000 fans, apparently the Falcons found it expedient to pump in fake crowd noise these last two seasons.
The team went 6-9 inside the Georgia Dome over that span, and lost in its most recent appearance there by 31 points. Wouldn’t a laugh track have been more appropriate?
Wonder what gave it away that they were recycling old noise?
Perhaps it was the chants of “Let’s Go, Bartkowski, Let’s Go!”
Or the howls suggesting they let loose the Grits Blitz one more time.
The NFL will release its investigative findings on Noisegate soon. When the shouting’s over, this may cost the team a fine or a draft choice, hopefully one of those fourth-rounders that never seem to amount to anything here.
We can’t say for sure whether this was more about creating ambiance than trying to gain an advantage. Either way, it’s an embarrassment.
That it is, and it's certainly not the start to the Dan Quinn era that fans were hoping for, especially if it costs the team an early pick in addition to a hefty fine.
Now, fans of the Falcons don't even have winning to use as a shield against the accusations that their beloved team is little more than a bunch of cheaters.
All they have is the sobering realization that "Dirty Birds" didn't mean what they thought.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.