New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a master at mind games and gamesmanship. Anything to get an edge, from his weekly injury report that isn't to signing players for no other reason than to grill them for information about upcoming opponents.
There was also that thing with the video cameras, but let's let that dog sleep.
Well, in advance of their divisional-round trip to Beantown to face the Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts have taken a page out of the New England playbook.
No, not an actual page. They keep those on iPads now.
And no, nothing was recorded. Leave...The...Dog...Alone.
On Monday, the Colts signed veteran wide receiver Deion Branch, who played with the Patriots from 2002-2005 and 2010-2012.
Colts GM Ryan Grigson channeling his inner Belichick, signing Deion Branch five days before the Colts play the Patriots. Wheee!— Judy Battista (@judybattista) January 6, 2014
Not surprisingly, many fans in New England were not happy to find out that the Super Bowl XXXIX MVP had joined the "enemy."
deion branch to the colts? That's too bad, he used to be one of my favorite patriots. #traitor— Shawn Hansen (@thebrokenbox) January 7, 2014
Yes, because Branch should have refused the money on general principle.
At least one sportswriter, on the other hand, starting hearing entrance music:
With all the wrestling talk this postseason, this Deion Branch-to-the-Colts thing might have been brokered by Vince McMahon.— Christopher Price (@cpriceNFL) January 6, 2014
"That's Deion Branch! And he's in a Colts uniform? I can't believe it!" --Jim Ross voice.— Christopher Price (@cpriceNFL) January 6, 2014
Let's be honest, the odds of a 34-year-old receiver having a huge impact in a playoff game that's his first for a new team and less than a week away is, well, not good.
In fact, not only is Branch 34, but he also hasn't seen the field in nearly a year, having last played in last year's AFC Championship Game. That followed a 2012 season in which he caught all of 16 passes for 145 yards.
The simple explanation is that with Darrius Heyward-Bey set to miss this week's game with a bad hamstring, per ESPN's Mike Wells, the Colts had a hole at wide receiver. The team worked out Branch last month, and he lives nearby.
However, it didn't take long for talk to turn to the fact that the Colts just so happened to sign a wide receiver who spent much of his career with the Patriots.
Head coach Chuck Pagano addressed the, um, coincidence, with Mike Wells of ESPN:
We figured the questions were going to come up that we were signing this guy who spent some time in New England. Is it just a coincidence or do you need the guy to help you win a football game and help your team? Every decision we make is based on what's best for this team and what gives us the best chance to win, and we think we have one heck of a football player.
That's some powerful coachspeak right there. It answers the question, and yet it doesn't even a little bit.
Yes, the Colts had a roster spot at wide receiver. Yes, the other options available aren't any more palatable than Branch.
Of course, one of the things that makes him palatable is his knowledge of their opponent this week.
Remember, not only was Branch in New England for some time, but there was also a time when he was Tom Brady's top option in the passing game.
Will the Deion Branch signing have any impact on Saturday's AFC divisional-round game?
The odds of Branch providing a nugget of information that helps lead to a big play (an audible, perhaps a tendency of Brady's) are probably just as good (if not better) than the chances of him having any sort of on-field impact.
Frankly, the odds of either happening aren't good. If Branch plays significant snaps Saturday, that would appear to foretell even more injuries for the Colts or running five-wide sets all day. Neither bodes well.
And the chances of year-old intel on the Pats breaking a game open in the playoffs? Against Belichick? It's easier to get blueprints for a ballistic missile submarine than get injury news out of New England, so it's a safe bet the team alters its terminology about every nine minutes.
This normally wouldn't be a big deal, but it is getting a lot of press given the magnitude of this week's game and Branch's status as a former Super Bowl MVP with the Pats.
Still, if nothing else it brings a wry smile to many lips to imagine, just for a moment, the Machiavellian mastermind himself being undone by a canary singing to the Colts.