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A pretty clear pattern is emerging in Roger Goodell's witch hunts

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Everyone that Roger Goodell and the NFL are going after based on flimsy evidence and hearsay has one obvious connection.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Come on, NFL, when people call you the "No Fun League", they're talking about players not being able to do things like write your dad's name on your eye black, not because the league is suspending all the good players!

This week, the NFL dished out an ultimatum to Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, along with free agent and ex-Packer Mike Neal, who are all name-dropped in the since-recanted Al-Jazeera report that accuses them of using steroids - cooperate with the league's investigation, or get suspended.

Here's the league's threat to James, Clay, Julius, and Mike, from ESPN:

"For those players whose interviews do not take place on or before August 25th, or who fail meaningfully to participate in or otherwise obstruct the interview, their actions will constitute conduct detrimental and they will be suspended, separate and apart from any possible future determination that they violated the steroid policy.  The suspension for each such player will begin on Friday, August 26th and will continue until he has fully participated in an interview with league investigators, after which the Commissioner will determine whether and when the suspension should be lifted."

Sound familiar?  Come in and prove to the league that you're innocent - which, as many people realized during previous scandals like Bountygate and Deflategate, is forcing players to prove a negative - or you'll be suspended for "conduct detrimental to the league", in addition to whatever it is that you actually might have done.

As our fearless leader Rich Hill noted this morning, here's the deal:

"NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is taking the power granted to him under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and shoving it down the players' throats."

Let's put it this way: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, odds are it's a duck.  Every team caught in the crosshairs of these "scandals", like the Packers are now, that turns into a giant cluster...er, mess and huge punishments has one glaringly obvious trait that they all share.

They own their divisions.

Let's run through a few of these to refresh your memory:

Spygate (2007) - New England had won three of the previous six Super Bowls and received the harshest punishment in NFL history (at the time).

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2010) - Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault.  Despite never actually being charged with a crime, Big Ben got suspended for six games, which eventually got reduced to four.  Ever since Roethlisberger took over at quarterback for the Steelers, the team's win-loss record looked like this:

2004: 15-1

2005: 11-5 (and they won the Super Bowl)

2006:  8-8

2007:  10-6

2008:  12-4 (and they won their second Super Bowl in four years)

2009:  9-7

Bountygate (2012) - In a case where most of the "leaks" turned out to be either completely wrong, or half-truths at best, Roger Goodell suspended head coach Sean Payton for a whole season, suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams "indefinitely", and suspended Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, and Will Smith, and the league took the Saints' 2012 and 2013 second-round picks.  Since the 2009 season, when New Orleans won the Super Bowl, the Saints had gone 13-3 in '09, 11-5 in 2010, and 13-3 in 2011.

DeflateGate (2015) - Ah, screw it, you guys know how this goes.  Another historic punishment, four games for Brady, no first-round draft pick in 2016, and no fourth-round pick in 2017.

And here we are, with three of the four guys accused in the Al-Jazeera report - which again, has been retracted - all being part of the Green Bay Packers, who are basically as much of an automatic lock to win their division as the Patriots are in the AFC East.  Green Bay, since 2007, has only had two seasons when they didn't rack up double-digit wins.

But just saying that Goodell is targeting dominant teams in the name of parity sounds like a cranky sorority girl excuse - until you look at how he's punished teams that aren't perennial Super Bowl picks.

Like the Atlanta Falcons, who got caught red-handed last year and admitted to piping fake crowd noise into the Georgia Dome, and admitted they've been doing it for years.  Pretty bad, right?  Their punishment?  Atlanta lost a fifth-round pick and was fined $350,000, to which the Falcons probably said "Fine, whatever", and then went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch.

Or how about the New York Jets, when owner Woody Johnson hopped on a microphone and said he "would love to have Darrelle (Revis) back" and Revis was still on the Patriots, which is quite literally, the definition of tampering?  A $100,000 fine.

What about the San Diego Chargers, who got accused of using Stickum on their receiver's gloves in 2012 and then didn't give the alleged "Stickum towels" to the NFL when the league said to hand them over?  Despite basically getting rid of the evidence, the NFL cleared the Chargers of any wrongdoing and fined them $20,000 for "not following the instructions of an official".  What's $20,000 good for in San Diego?  Two months of rent, maybe?

Ooooh, you probably forgot about this one - in 2009, the Denver Broncos got caught videotaping a San Francisco 49ers walkthrough practice.  The NFL really brought the hammer down on this one - $50,000 fines for the Broncos and for head coach Josh McDaniels.

And just this year, the Baltimore Ravens got caught red-handed having some of their players practicing in helmets and pads during rookie minicamp, which the CBA specifically says you can't do.  The Baltimore Sun lamented that the NFL "...came down hard on the Ravens"...by fining the team and John Harbaugh and taking away three OTA practices.

You get the idea by now.

If you're a powerhouse football team that basically stomps your division almost every year, and Roger Goodell and the NFL see a chance to land a gut-punch, they're going for it.  And they're not going to let bad information, logic, reports that turn out to be false or flimsy at best, or even sworn testimony get in the way.

And every time it happens, 31 other teams will laugh and clap and support Goodell's decision, because a loss for a contender makes their odds of winning better.

Sometimes, the simplest answer to a question really is the best one.

Guess everyone should have listened to the Steelers back in 2011 after all.