Patriots prompt another debate over what is and isn’t cheating

Good Morning, Broncos fans! It's January, and the Patriots find themselves in a very familiar place. And we're not talking about the AFC Championship, even if next Sunday will mark the Pats' fourth straight appearance in that game.

Rather, New England is again at the center of a controversy regarding the rules and spirit of the NFL.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots doing "an illegal type of thing" on Saturday night by using deceptive substitutions during their first scoring drive of the second half (when they trailed 28-14 but then drew to within 28-21).

While Massholes everywhere are quick to accuse Harbaugh of whining - count Tom Brady among them - it's pretty easy to see where the losing coach is coming from.

As seen in the screenshots here, New England trotted out just four linemen on a few plays, with running back Shane Vereen reporting as ineligible but lining up out in the slot.

Bill Vinovich and his crew did not announce Vereen's ineligibility on the PA, and Brady snapped the ball before the Ravens could figure out who was and was not eligible. The result was that Baltimore was left to cover six possible receivers, even though only five of them were eligible.

The failure of Vinovich & Co. to either announce the ineligible man or delay the snap until Baltimore could line up on defense, led Harbaugh to protest on the field, drawing himself a five-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Per Harbaugh, the officials subsequently told him they would give the Ravens defenders enough time to figure out where to line up.

Like Brady and Bill Belichick explained afterward, the Patriots were clearly playing within the written rules, and it was a brilliant move.

But anyone (well, maybe not Bill Simmons or Greg Bedard) can see that it was a deceptive tactic, one that should not have been permitted last night, or in the future.

Look for this to be a hot topic this week, and for the NFL to address it somehow. Figure we'll be hearing from Dean Blandino in the next day or two, saying that Vinovich should have announced Vereen's ineligibility, and that referees will do so going forward.

Broncos

Over at the DP, excellent profiles of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris.

Jacob Tamme talks about his diminished role in the offense and facing his former team.

Andrew Mason, Paul Klee, and David Ramsey each share three keys for the Broncos; Woody Paige predicts an easy Denver win and a big game for Peyton Manning.

Klee says the team and its aging quarterback are in a race against time.

Mason checks in with the 1977 Orange Crush team that will be honored today at halftime.

Former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen has filled the void of football by diving back into his first love - hunting.

Colts

Greg Cosell studies the Colts offense from their win over Cincinnati last week.

Gregg Doyel wonders whether Andrew Luck might end up better than Manning; Luck reminds Mark Kiszla of a young John Elway.

Mike Wells and Kevin Bowen go over Indy's keys to victory; Mason discusses the Colts offense and defense.

Seahawks/Panthers

Seattle is back in the NFC title game after its 31-17 victory over Carolina. Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes, including a 63-yarder to Jermaine Kearse.

But safety Kam Chancellor was the star of the game, posting 11 tackles and sealing the result with a 90-yard fourth-quarter pick-six.

Chancellor (a 2010 fifth-rounder, if you were wondering) was seemingly in on every play, including a couple that didn't count. Just before halftime, Chancellor hurdled the line of scrimmage on consecutive Carolina FG attempts. Penalties nullified each kick, the second one because Chancellor ran into Graham Gano. But his incredible display of athleticism provided for one of the more memorable sequences of the season.

Analysis

Mike Klis thinks the NFL's schedule for coaching hirings needs to be changed to accomodate assistants on playoff teams (like Jack Del Rio).

Chase Stuart looks back at the first three times a quarterback took on his former team in the postseason, including Craig Morton in SB 12.

Harvey Araton thinks Roger Goodell & Co. are thankful that Baltimore's season is over, so that the Ray Rice fiasco can fade a bit into the rearview.

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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