THE BIG TOPIC surrounding the sports world this week was the New England Patriots and ‘Spygate’ and of course, I have an opinion.

For those of you that haven’t watched much ESPN since Sunday, I’ll quickly give you the finer points of the controversy.

In their 2007 opener with the New York Jets, New England video assistant Matt Estrella was caught filming the Jets’ defensive signals during the game, which is illegal.

Both the NFL and the Patriots insisted the camera had no impact on New England’s 38-14 win.

Duh! If the Patriots hadn’t been caught cheating and kept the tape, I bet they would have demolished the J-E-T-S in their second meeting later this year — even more so than this game.

Many prominent media members have been questioning how long the Patriots have actually been doing this and I say for sure a year, but probably more like four or more years.

Here’s my evidence:

? In 2003, Buffalo whipped New England 31-0 to open the season, but the Pats rebounded to win 31-0 in their second meeting.

? In 2004, the Steelers jumped on the Pats early in a 34-20 regular season win, but again, New England rebounded later in the season with a 41-27 win in the playoffs.

? In 2005, the Jets limited New England to just 16 points in their first meeting and in their second meeting, the Patriots responded with 31 points.

? Last year, both the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills complained about the Patriots filming practices. The Packers escorted the camera man from the field.

Coincidence?

I think not. It might have been a coincidence had it happened twice, but for it to have happened in each of the past four years throws any shred of innocence out the window.

Then you take what the local professionals were saying earlier this week:

“They were calling our stuff out,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. “They knew, especially that first championship game here at Heinz Field. They knew a lot of our calls. There’s no question some of their players were calling out some of our stuff.”

“In this league everybody knows what everybody’s going to run,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “It’s just a matter of stopping it. The bottom line is you watch enough film and you know where guys are and where they’re coming from. Can you stop it?”

“It matters,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “If you know what coverage it is, you can call certain plays or you know where guys are going to be, because defenses do such a great job of disguising stuff nowadays that if you know exactly what’s coming you can know whether to call a run or a pass, or inside or outside.”

One part of this discussion is how should NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell punish the Patriots. Thursday night, Goodell fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000. If the Pats make the playoffs this year, they lose a 2008 first round pick if they make the playoffs or they lose 2008 second and third rounders if they miss the postseason.

“I specifically considered whether to impose a suspension on Coach Belichick,” Goodell wrote in a letter to the team. “I have determined not to do so, largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension.”

In my humble opinion, the punishment wasn’t enough — in other words, he needed to make an example of them.

I thought the Pats should be forced to forfeit the game, fined considerably, fine Belichick and take away some draft picks and award them to the Jets.

Another problem with the punishment is, the Pats have five total picks in the first three rounds of April’s draft — two picks in the first and third rounds and single pick in the second.

In other words, they’ll still have a pick in each round, so the talent will still roll in.

Was I surprised the punishment wasn’t close to what I said? No, but I would imagine they wouldn’t do it again with that kind of punishment I proposed.

After going 155-92 (.628) in my first year of publicly posting my picks, I went 9-6 (.600) in Week 1 of the 2007 NFL season.

Here’s next week’s picks:

Pittsburgh over Buffalo

Indianapolis over Tennessee

Green Bay over N.Y. Giants

Carolina over Houston

San Francisco over St. Louis

Cincinnati over Cleveland

New Orleans over Tampa Bay

Jacksonville over Atlanta

Dallas over Miami

Minnesota over Detroit

Seattle over Arizona

Chicago over Kansas City

Baltimore over N.Y. Jets

Denver over Oakland

San Diego over New England

Philadelphia over Washington



Corey J. Corbin is the Sports Editor for Allied News. He can be reached ccorbin@alliednews.com

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