All I can say to Tony Dungy, Mike Shanahan or whoever’s sleepless week began last night – good luck.

Instead of counting sheep, maybe you can soothe yourself to sleep with consolations, like how the Patriots are going to get tired, or how they’re going to get beat up. They’re supposed to, at least.

But you’re a pro football coach, and you’re supposed to think of, and therefore prepare for, the worst. So I’ll help you out.

Who would be shocked if they instead got stronger from here? Tedy Bruschi will probably be back next week. The thrown-together secondary, which is playing with more confidence every game, gets one game further from the thrown and another closer to the together.

Tom Brady can throw the ball much more accurately. Corey Dillon just looks like he’s saving himself. The offense wasn’t exactly humming. That can get better.

Say what you want about Peyton Manning salivating for another chance to carve up New England’s secondary. Argue all you will about a gimpy Byron Leftwich not being enough to test them. It’s more than the secondary. It’s the front seven and Bill Belichick. You’ll be lucky to get through them to get to the secondary. And Mike Shanahan and Tony Dungy know that, Dungy especially.

Mr. Dungy. Mr. Shanahan. Forget about running the ball. I think we can safely assume now that it just won’t happen. Not on a Bill Belichick team in the postseason. When was the last time anyone ran on them in playoffs? Pittsburgh did it last year, but did it all while playing from behind. You may be home, but believe me, you don’t want to be playing this team from behind. Even early.

Get behind early and Willie McGinest is going to somehow become a factor. Richard Seymour is going to pin his ears back and get a hand in Peyton or Plummer’s face. Mike Vrabel will force a fumble.

The offense smells the same blood the defense does. Then a Ben Watson runs over three guys and outraces three others. Troy Brown steps in for one big catch. Kevin Faulk breaks a screen for 60 yards.

If you get ahead early, then there’s really only one man you need to stop. That’s Tom Brady. Easier said than done, of course, but at least it’s just one guy.

You basically have to overwhelm the Patriots first, because if you don’t, they will get around to overwhelming you. Get them thinking in six or seven different directions before they get you thinking in twice as many.

It’s a tall order. Heck, nobody’s done it in, what, 10 games now?

And if they’ve proven anything in the last 10, it’s that it really doesn’t matter if they’re sucking for oxygen in the Mile High City or breathing clearly in an antiseptic dome. Don’t fool yourself into thinking last night was the product of them having home field advantage. Don’t do that, Tony and Mike.

Just root for Pittsburgh to win today, Tony. Put all your hopes on Cincinnati today, Mike. Then you guys might avoid the sleepless nights for one more week, at least.

But seriously, good luck fellas. You’re gonna need it.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reacheed at [email protected]


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