It seems to be fitting for the Super Bowl champion to be possibly still involved in a cheating scandal because this has been a year of turmoil for the NFL, whose image has been tarnished and integrity challenged.

The Seattle Seahawks could have ended some of the peril surrounding this season, but they couldn't hold off the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIX. So "Deflategate," the investigation involving the Patriots possibly deflating footballs in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, will only add more drama and suspense in the upcoming weeks.

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The crowning of the Patriots is par for a season in which the league had major public relations gaffes in handling the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy domestic abuse cases, as well as the Adrian Peterson child abuse incident that prompted many critics to call for the resignation of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

We also can't forget about that bizarre incident in an NFC playoff game when an official inexplicably picked up a penalty flag on a call late in the game that possibly caused the Detroit Lions a victory over America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, or the bogus investigation of ex-FBI director Robert Mueller into the Rice incident.

So, if the Patriots are eventually guilty in "Deflategate" in the Colts game, will it really make a difference? And if those mildly depressed balls played a part in other New England playoff wins during the past decade, that can be all can be swept under the rug, too, huh?

That's where we're at with the NFL these days. It's a lack of trust issue. After the Seahawks lost Sunday, there was a popular conspiracy theory that Seattle called that horrendous pass play at the end of the game because the league wanted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to be the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player, not disgruntled running back Marshawn Lynch.

It's ludicrous, but the league's once honorable reputation is that soiled, which is why a lot of fans rooted for Seattle on Sunday. Nobody wanted cheaters to win. Unfortunately for New England coach Bill Belichick and even, to some degree, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, their reputations will be tainted until there is a new era of NFL fans.

No one will ever doubt the sheer brilliance of Belichick. He built Super Bowl-winning defenses as a coordinator with Bill Parcells and has won four Super Bowl titles as a head coach.

And Brady, even at 37, is still one of the game's best masters. On Sunday, he completed 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Twice in the last quarter, he led the Patriots on touchdown drives of 68 and 64 yards as New England overcame a 10-point deficit at the end of the third quarter.

But there is a different feeling about Belichick now. He always has had the sour demeanor and arrogance, and a lot of coaches within the NFL circle have privately questioned whether he bends the rules. But in September 2007, NFL security caught a Patriots assistant illegally taping New York Jets defensive hand signals from an on-field location, which cost Belichick a $500,000 fine.

And now "Deflategate" has been added to "Spygate."

At this point, it wouldn't make a difference if Goodell found New England innocent because he has lost as much credibility as the Patriots. If found guilty, the Patriots won't have to relinquish their title and it probably would just cost them a draft pick. That's a trade off any coach would make: a draft pick for a Super Bowl title.

The Seahawks could have gotten the NFL off the hook if they had won, but Seattle had their own problems with play selection. On second-and-8 from the New England 1-yard line with 26 seconds left in the game, Wilson's short slant-in pass to receiver Ricardo Lockette was intercepted by cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Apparently, Seattle had suffered an identity crisis. The Seahawks had prided themselves in being a running team all year, yet they decided to pass instead of giving the ball to Lynch, one of the best running backs in the league who had gained 4 yards on the previous play.

If the Seahawks weren't going to run with Lynch, why not fake the handoff to him and roll out Wilson to give the quarterback the run-pass option? It just made no sense.

There were many wasted opportunities for greatness Sunday.

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If Seattle had won, the Seahawks would have beaten two eventual Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the past two Super Bowls in Brady and Peyton Manning, which might have made them one of the great defenses in league history. If the Seahawks had won, it would have been coach Pete Carroll's second NFL championship to go along with two national championships in college football.

But any legacy discussions were about Belichick as the NFL's greatest coach and Brady as the best quarterback in Super Bowl history, possibly ever.

But with those discussions were always questions about their involvement in "Deflategate." The fallout is not going to go away soon, and it will last for years.

It's an integrity issue, not just with them, but with the NFL as well.

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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