A federal judge has overturned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in deflating footballs at January's AFC Championship game with the Indianapolis Colts.

In an unexpected ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan upheld a challenge by Brady and the players union, who argued that Goodell was biased, Brady didn't get a fair hearing, and the NFL labor agreement only allows fines for equipment violations.

Berman found that the NFL had given Brady inadequate notice of his potential discipline for deflating balls, denied him the opportunity to examine NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, a key investigator, and had denied him proper access to the NFL's investigative files and witness notes.

An NFL investigation found that it was "more likely than not" that he was at least "generally aware" of a Patriots ball-tampering scheme. But Brady and the union said "generally aware" was not a standard for discipline recognized in the labor agreement.

Brady's suspension was scheduled to begin in the Patriots first game Sept. 10. The NFL can appeal Berman's ruling and seek a stay from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but legal experts say the court is more likely to let Brady play and let the suspension take effect only if it overturns Berman.

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Brady led the team to the Super Bowl championship this year, the fourth he has won as a quarterback. The Patriots beat the Colts 45-7 in January, and outscored them 28-0 in the second half after the allegedly underinflated balls were replaced.

NFL rules say that all game balls should be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Underinflated balls may be easier to grip, and less likely to be fumbled. Brady has said he had nothing to do with and is unaware of any tampering with balls.