INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Tony Dungy welcomed the three-ring circus back to Indianapolis on Monday.
With more reporters, more hype and more debate than a regular-season game typically merits, Dungy instructed his Colts to have fun as they prepare for another high-wire act: Playing the dreaded Patriots.
``I really think that's why you're in the league, for games like this,'' the Indy coach said Monday. ``So I think you've got to enjoy it and focus on the task at hand.''
You can bet there will be lots of not-so-subtle reminders about the Colts' task everywhere they look this week, in meetings, on television and radio, even in the grocery store.
Since the Pats (8-0) have won every game by at least 17 points, most consider the three-time Super Bowl champs the league's best team. Quarterback Tom Brady is on pace to shatter Peyton Manning's single-season touchdown record (49), and many outsiders have argued for weeks whether New England could finish the season 16-0.
It's a proposition coach Bill Belichick isn't even considering.
``We're going to put this one behind us and move on to the Colts,'' he said Monday, following the Patriots 52-7 rout of Washington.
Meanwhile, the defending Super Bowl champion Colts have been more sideshow than feature attraction.
Indy is the second team in league history to open three consecutive seasons at 7-0, has won 12 straight, including the 38-34 AFC title game victory over the Pats, and is off to the third best start of any defending Super Bowl champion. The '98 Broncos were 13-0, while the 49ers went 10-0 in 1989.
Because of the Patriots' blowouts, the Colts' impressive record seems secondary. Even the oddsmakers have made Indy an underdog at home.
``The point spreads are really public opinion because they're trying to get an even number of bets on both sides,'' Dungy said. ``Obviously, a lot of people think New England is going to win.''
Actually, the Colts relish their low-profile position after what's happened the last three years.
From Manning's pursuit of the TD record in 2004, to Indy's quest for perfection in 2005, to the two-week Super Bowl buildup last winter, the Colts have grown accustomed to handling such distractions.
So after weeks of virtual silence on New England, the Colts are finally going to start discussing their old nemesis when they return from a two-day break. Dungy has given players Monday and Tuesday off.
``I am just going to enjoy this week,'' said running back Joseph Addai, who scored the winning touchdown against the Pats in the AFC championship game.
Playing New England has always been a little different, though.
Since the former AFC East partners were split up in 2002, when the Colts moved to the AFC South, the intensity and passion of this rivalry has grown nationally.
This will be their seventh meeting since 2003, including three AFC championships, and the interest they have created reminds Dungy of previous high-profile rivalries such as Dallas-San Francisco in the 1990s and Pittsburgh-Oakland in the 1970s.
``I think it is similar to when we played the Raiders because they're not in our division and we knew we'd probably have to play them to advance (in the playoffs),'' said Dungy, who played on one of those Steelers' Super Bowl-winning teams. ``It became fun.''
Except this version includes a new caveat: It's the latest in the season two unbeaten teams have ever met.
Whatever the result, the winner can anticipate another circuslike environment about becoming the first team to go undefeated since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
``I think it will be fun, and it's good for the league,'' Dungy said. ``But we want players to understand that it's not the end of the season, it won't put you in the playoffs and it doesn't guarantee you anything.''

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