There is a reason that most NFL home teams choose the sideline with its back to the press box and coaching boxes. There is a reason coaches hold the play chart in front of their faces when calling plays or coverages. There is a reason locker rooms are guarded and practice facilities are inspected for hidden cameras and hotel trash cans are emptied lest a morsel of information fall into the wrong hands.

The reason is not because Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have turned the league into a cult of cheaters.

The reason is because the games are coached by human beings.

People want to win. They want to win badly enough that if an opponent is showing his cards at the table, they will damn well peek at them. That's far from a surprise, even as we hear more about how Belichick devised ways to look at cards he shouldn't have been able to see.

An ESPN The Magazine story published online Tuesday provided new details about the 2007 Spygate scandal in which the Patriots were found to be videotaping opposing coaches' signals from the sidelines. It is an exhaustive, comprehensive story that puts forth the theory that commissioner Roger Goodell's attempt at stern punishment for the more recent Deflategate scandal was a "makeup call" for his relatively lenient handling of the videotaping violation.

That's possible, although the linkage is hung on a single partial quote from an anonymous NFL owner. It's just as likely that Goodell screwed up both punishment decisions - with the porridge too cold once and too hot the next time - because he's absolutely lousy at those decisions. The man can get the business deals done and make the cash register ring, but his moral compass has trouble locating true north.

For Eagles fans, and those within the 2004 Eagles organization, the article rekindles the suspicion that the Patriots somehow cheated during their preparation for the Super Bowl between the teams.

According to the story, "When Spygate broke, some of the Eagles now believed they had an answer for a question that had vexed them since they lost to the Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX: How did New England seem completely prepared for the rarely used dime defense the Eagles deployed in the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on three of four drives? The Eagles suspected that either practices were filmed or a playbook was stolen. 'To this day, some believe that we were robbed by the Patriots not playing by the rules . . . and knowing our game plan,' a former Eagles football operations staffer says."

Or maybe they were just better.

Whether that means they were better at playing the game of football, or better at finding out what the Eagles were going to do before they did it, if it had an effect on the game, then the Eagles didn't do a good enough job of watching their cards.

Belichick's preferred method of spying was to record the signals sent in to an opponent's defense, match them up to the coverages that ensued, and use that information to give Tom Brady a heads-up on what he would see. Other teams tried to do much the same. (Since 2008, as a result of Spygate, the coverage calls come directly into the helmet of a defensive player, negating the need for signals. Quarterbacks got the helmet speakers in 1994.)

Even back then, smart teams would change their signals frequently, or have several coaches sending in different signals, with only one of those the real call. Smart teams would guard their playbooks and make sure their practices were secure.

Not to judge by just one game, or to label those Eagles as slow because it took six minutes to run a two-minute drill, but maybe the Eagles weren't all that smart.

Or maybe the Patriots were just better.

Belichick's starting quarterback has been Tom Brady for 14 seasons. In the seven seasons before the rule change on defensive signals, the Patriots were 86-26. In the seven seasons since, they are 84-28. If Brady has been less effective in his play or Belichick less able to scout the opposition, it hasn't been very apparent.

If it makes you feel better to believe the Eagles would have won had the game been fair and square, go ahead. Maybe the Eagles should buy a big trophy, inscribe "We Were Cheated 2/6/05" and put it in the NovaCare Complex lobby. Sell T-shirts. Have a parade.

In the end, it might also be worth considering that Brady knowing the Eagles were in dime coverage (and he could count when he got to the line, by the way) is less important than the fact that the extra men in the secondary were Roderick Hood and Matt Ware.

Being better is the most unfair advantage of all. That's why people dislike Belichick and the Patriots, and it is totally understandable. Everyone does what he does. He just does it better. Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to gain an edge. If you let him, he's not the one to blame.