A U.S. appeals court could hear as soon as early February the National Football League's appeal of a judge's ruling overturning New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's "Deflategate" suspension, according to a court filing.
Tuesday's decision from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York all but ensures that Brady will not be barred from any games this season, including the playoffs.
The court granted a request from the NFL and its players union for an expedited appeal, saying it will schedule oral arguments as early as the week of Feb. 1.
The Super Bowl is scheduled to be played on Feb. 7, raising the possibility that the case could generate headlines just days before the NFL's premier event - particularly if Brady and the Patriots, currently 3-0, are playing for a second consecutive title.
But it is highly unlikely the court would make an immediate ruling. Typically, the court takes months to issue a decision.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in August vacated Brady's ban for his alleged role in a scheme to deflate footballs used in a January playoff game, saying the league's disciplinary process was legally flawed.
The NFL declined to comment, while the players union and the Patriots did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Brady has been sensational in the early part of the season, throwing for nine touchdowns, more than 1,100 yards and no interceptions through three victories.
He was initially suspended over the footballs used in the Patriots' 45-7 postseason victory against the Colts that sent them to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24.
In May, Ted Wells, a lawyer hired by the NFL to investigate, found it was "more probable than not" that Brady was "generally aware" two low-level Patriots employees had conspired to let air out of the footballs, which can make them easier to grip.
Berman did not address the underlying allegations in his ruling but said Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to uphold Brady's punishment was plagued by "legal deficiencies," including a failure to notify Brady beforehand that his alleged conduct could be punished by suspension.
In a one-page order on Tuesday, the court said the NFL must file its brief by Oct. 26. The union must respond by Dec. 7, and the league's brief in reply will be due on Dec. 21.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Christian Plumb and Tom Brown)