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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Take his 2 cents' worth -- to the bank

You're thinking of it, but you dare not say it. Master Belichick has trained you well, so you will not give voice to what you have been thinking since the end of Saturday's shutout.

That's OK, my child. I will do it for you.

The Patriots are going to beat the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs Jan. 15 at the RCA Dome. Set aside the Super Bowls, Tuck Rule Games, and annual playoff conquests in Steeltown; in the long, lofty reign of His Hooded Holiness, this will be the greatest victory of them all.

You saw the Patriots destroy the Buccaneers Saturday. You saw the Colts lose at home yesterday. It's clear. The Patriots are going to get Indy again.

No one can talk about this in Foxborough, of course. Not now. Not ever. In fact, it's amusing just to think about what would happen if some cub reporter stood up at Bill Belichick's news conference this morning and said, ''Ahem, Coach, now that you're playing better, and now that we've seen the Colts lose, how do you think you'd match up against the Colts in the playoffs if you played them right now?"

Said reporter would have better luck asking Barry Bonds what's in his medicine cabinet or calling Bill O'Reilly to talk about Hillary Clinton.

No. We know how it will go this week and the week after and the week after that. Belichick and his men will spend these next several days telling us that the 3-11 Jets remind them quite a bit of the 1985 Chicago Bears. And next week they'll have us believing the 2005 Dolphins are just about as good as Don Shula's undefeated team in '72. And then we'll spend a week praising the Jacksonville Jaguars (''almost a carbon copy of Lombardi's Packers") before they come here for the first playoff game.

Not me. I'll be thinking about the Colts and how sweet it's going to be when the Sons of Belichick go into the Dome and pull off the greatest NFL triumph since a bunch of these same Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in New Orleans Feb. 3, 2002.

Think about it, it's all falling into place. The planets are aligning. The Patriots and Colts are on paths toward an inevitable collision and the football world will be stunned when the team with the five losses shocks the star-stocked team of the century.

Remember when the 1969 old-guard Celtics finished in fourth place, then rallied in the playoffs and won Bill Russell's final championship? They beat a Lakers team that had Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. And they won Game 7 on the road. That's a little bit what this will be like.

The Patriots at this hour are a team on the way up. The Colts are fat and happy. The Patriots have won their last three games by an aggregate score of 79-10. They beat a couple of division bums, then smoked a playoff-bound Tampa team that recently won on the road against one of the NFC's best (Carolina).

The Colts yesterday finally lost and showed us that you can run on them. You can dominate their defensive line. You can beat them at home. Most of all, you can get to Peyton Manning. The Chargers put Manning on his butt all day long yesterday. Imagine what Willie McGinest and Rosevelt Colvin will be able to do.

New England's defense is peaking at just the right time. Sure, the secondary is young and vulnerable, but the front seven is so good teams can't run and quarterbacks can't get any time. Colvin and McGinest are playing like Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson in their primes. And even when facing a QB like Manning, Patriots fans have learned to Trust In Bill.

New England's early-season plague is paying benefits now. Losing Rodney Harrison remains the lone blow that still could derail a Super Bowl run, but elsewhere the Patriots have healthy, rested people playing their best football in December rather than October. Tedy Bruschi looks like the defensive captain again. Richard Seymour is taking on two and three guys per play up front.

In 1986, Red Sox lefthander Bruce Hurst missed more than a month in the middle of the season with a groin pull. The good part of the injury was that it enabled him to be strong in October when he pitched better than Roger Clemens, who was worn out after going 24-4. These Patriots in December (and January) look like Bruce Hurst in October of '86.

The Patriots are back. They have the best player in football in Tom Brady -- also the most clutch player in sports. They have the greatest clutch kicker in football history in Adam Vinatieri. They have a coach who is considered the new Lombardi, one who is 9-0 in playoff games in New England. They have a running back. They suddenly have healthy leaders back on defense. They have experience and confidence and purpose. No team ever has won three consecutive Super Bowls.

The Colts are going to stagger to the finish. They could lose again next week. In any event, they have lost their veneer of invincibility and they will be stale and worried anew when the Patriots come marching into the Dome in mid-January.

Of course, this is getting way ahead of things. Belichick and Co. need to focus on the moribund Jets, then the Dolphins. Then they must take care of business in that first, home, playoff game. There can be no talk about the Colts around here until the second week of next year. But it's going to happen. The win nobody expected. The greatest Patriots victory of them all.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. On June 26, 2005, he predicted the Red Sox were going to win the American League East in a landslide. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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