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New York (AFP) - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is all but certain to remain free to play for the rest of the season after a court ruled that the NFL's appeal in the "Deflategate" case would not be heard before February.
The court granted a request by the league and players union for an expedited hearing, with the league ordered to file a brief by October 26, with Brady's attorneys to reply by December 7 and the league having until December 21 to respond.
The appeal would be heard the week of February 1 with the Super Bowl set for February 7 at the new home stadium of the San Francisco 49ers.
The timing virtually ensures Brady would not face a ban this season even if the ruling in the controversy about underinflated footballs that has haunted the Patriots since last year's American Conference final.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looked into the controversy of balls found to be below NFL air pressure minimums and banned Brady for the first four games of this season.
Brady appealed the ban to Goodell and he upheld his punishment in July. Brady then took the matter to US District Court and earlier this month had the suspension thrown out by judge Richard Berman -- a verdict the league has now pushed to the US Court of Appeals.
With Brady directing the Patriots' attack, defending Super Bowl champion New England is off to a 3-0 start of the current NFL season.