Last year the sports media world was constantly buzzing about the NFL and "Deflategate", the scandal in which the Indianapolis Colts alleged that the New England Patriots had intentionally deflated their own footballs in order to give Tom Brady an advantage with throwing the football during the game.
The fallout was a long offseason of countless stories that ranged from investigative reports with damning evidence of staff members from the Patriots admitting to the deflation, Tom Brady destroying his cell phone before the NFL could look through it for any evidence, a four-game suspension of Brady by the NFL and then an overturning of the suspension in federal court.
Many legal minds questioned how a judge could overturn a suspension that was seemingly well within the rights of the commissioner, Roger Goodell, granted via the NFL's current collective bargaining agreement. Then Monday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Goodell was within his rights to issue a suspension in regards to the "deflategate" investigation, making Tom Brady a suspended player again for the first four games of the 2016 season.
While the varying stances of agreement and disagreement to the federal court's decision are dominating most of sports media, the real question many Steelers' fans are asking might be, "What does this do for us?"
The answer is simple: Absolutely nothing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to host the New England Patriots for the first time since 2011, when they won at Heinz Field behind a tough defensive performance including two LaMarr Woodley sacks and a sack/fumble late in the game from Brett Keisel; however, the game is scheduled to be in week seven of the NFL season, three weeks after Tom Brady's suspension will be lifted.
Not only will Brady be back for the Steelers' game, but he will also have two weeks under his belt; making it highly unlikely that he will be rusty for the game.
So, maybe you think that the Patriots will suffer from an early bad record and be 0-4 coming into Brady's return? But looking at their schedule, they play two teams that posted winning records in 2015 in their first four games scheduled in the Arizona Cardinals and the Houston Texans. Both of which were division champions, but only the Cardinals were seen as an actual contender from last season as they lost in the NFC Championship game. The Texans were able to make the playoffs, but were blown away by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round. Who are the other two teams? The perennial pushovers for New England in the past 16 years, the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins.
While it is possible that the absence of Tom Brady and the potential for improvement will make these games more competitive, this punishment should hardly seem as a death knell for the New England Patriots' playoff hopes. Their schedule has them facing the entire AFC North, the whole NFC West, their regular divisional opponents as well as the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos.
The Patriots will still most likely be the champions of the AFC East, barring any significant improvements from their own divisional opponents or a bigger fall-off from the Patriots' lack of production over the past several years. This means that there will be no break for Pittsburgh in their race to the playoffs. They will still need to most likely win their game against the Patriots in October, as well as finish with approximately 12 to 14 games to secure a top seed in the playoffs.
Both of which are achievable goals with the talent Pittsburgh has on its roster, but the success of the team will not hinge on this reinstatement of Brady's suspension. The same goes for the overall AFC playoff picture, which will most likely still see the Patriots resting with a bye week in the first round of the playoffs along with whichever other AFC team is dominant throughout the regular season.