Roger Goodell

Before a single down has been played, we have already witnessed the biggest upset of the NFL season. Judge Berman handed down his ruling in favor of Tom Brady, vacating the NFL's imposed four-game suspension. Given the narrow scope of what this court was supposed to be ruling on, the NFL couldn't lose, right? Most pundits agreed. Until they didn’t.

But unlike most court rulings, this one will not bring much clarity to the situation. The average American will assume this means innocence for Brady. It does not. Judge Berman carefully sidestepped that issue. This is about process and procedure.

An appeal will be filed. Another judge will step in to evaluate if Judge Berman overstepped his bounds.

Why does the NFL care so passionately about this infraction? Why spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours devoted to football inflation? Because this case is not about determining a valid punishment for a specific offense, but rather a total condemnation of the Patriot Way.

I have spoken to several former NFL players, who both played for the Patriots and against them, and they tell stories that would blow your mind. The Patriots employ tactics that -- in their words, not mine -- "totally cross the line."

New England fans call it "jealousy." Fans of other teams call it "fairness."

Yes, the NFL lost (for now), but did it really?

Young Brady Fans

This "scandal" has managed to keep the NFL as the main topic of TV shows, sports pages, blogs, sports talk radio, fantasy drafts and barroom chatter. Despite other sports having great playoff runs and the U.S. women winning a World Cup, the NFL has managed to own the off-season. Again. The ratings for the NFL opener between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers should set records. The debate will persist. And the NFL's business will remain dominant.

In almost every aspect of its business, the NFL is an exacting institution. Control is its mantra. It controls who its broadcast partners are. Who its sponsors are. How long the deals are. How much they cost.

But there are two courts it does not control -- the judicial court and the court of public opinion. And this week both sent a message to the NFL.

No matter how this saga ends, one thing is certain: The players will play, the fans will watch, and the NFL owners will count their money.

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