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You get the feeling that, if you picked up a newspaper in the New England Patriots' locker room, the standings page curiously would be missing. If you hopped online, there'd be a firewall blocking access to every NFL standings page on the Internet. Yes, coach Bill Belichick will be damned if his players find out just how easy their schedule is at the moment.
Belichick would struggle to pass a polygraph test with all the half-truths he's uttered in recent weeks, all while pumping the tires of the Patriots' opponents so that his team wouldn't look past these struggling squads.
It's hard to imagine Belichick and his staff truly believed all the nice things they said in praising the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. How could they after dominating those matchups, winning by a combined 49 points?
Now Week 13 brings the 0-11 Indianapolis Colts to Foxborough. Good luck finding a way to spin this one, Coach.
"Obviously, a couple of changes in personnel," Belichick said, offering the understatement of the year regarding the Peyton Manning-less Colts. "But it's a team we always have trouble with."
True, but this iteration of the Colts hardly resembles the team that Patriots fans have come to detest over the past decade. The bookkeepers in Vegas went so far as to establish the Patriots as 21-point favorites, while the schedule makers have already flexed the game out of its original prime-time slot.
And just how noteworthy is that 21-point spread? Four years ago, a soon-to-be-undefeated Patriots squad set a league record for largest spread not involving an expansion team by being 23½-point favorites over the (Donovan McNabb-less) Eagles.
|With Peyton Manning on the sidelines, the Colts bear little resemblance to the Indianapolis teams that have caused problems for the Patriots in the past.|
Belichick likely will tell us that the Colts rank in the upper half of the league in rushing yards per carry (13th, 4.41-yard average) and sacks per pass attempt (6.35 percent). But those are the only major statistical categories in which the Colts are not buried in the basement of the league.
So Belichick's best bet might be avoiding all film from this season and sticking with archival footage. Show his team the recent history of this rivalry -- Manning and all -- and hope that it's enough to light a little fire under them.
Otherwise it will be easy for the Patriots to look straight past this one.
"Time to turn the page, get back in the [conference] and get ready for Indianapolis and start preparing for a team that we've faced many times that, schematically, looks pretty much the same as they usually do," Belichick said.
He elaborated more on his approach during an afternoon appearance on Boston sports radio station WEEI.
"We never really talk about the [opposing] team's record, we talk about the team," Belichick said. "We talk about the team we're playing, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they do, how they'll try to attack us and what we'll try to do to attack them. You expect every team to play their best against you. We always expect to see their best plays because that's what we prepare for."
And perhaps that Eagles game from 2007 will provide the best inspiration for the Patriots this week. Philadelphia hung around for four quarters that day and New England escaped with a 31-28 triumph.
As Belichick is fond of noting, nothing comes easy in this league. And he's being honest when he tells that to his team, regardless of the opponent.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.