Go with what you know.

That catch phrase isn’t destined to boot “You play to win the game!” (Herman Edwards), “They are who we thought they were!” (Dennis Green), or “It is what it is” (Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, and soon to be used by every coach in America who’s asked a question he doesn’t like) from the football lexicon.

It is the only useful system, however, for sorting through the hyperanalysis of today’s AFC Championship and trying to honestly handicap a game that most of America believes – again – will be the coronation of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts as God’s greatest gift to the gridiron since arthroscopic surgery.

Now, I realize that the average American attention span is shorter than the standard Enzyte commercial, but please, can we call a halt to the stupidity and at least pretend that the NFL season started before Jan. 6?

Indianapolis ousted the worst team from the playoffs (Kansas City) and out-stunk one of the most overblown teams in the history of mankind (Baltimore).

If I’m following the absurdity correctly, that means suddenly we’re supposed to forget the last four months and the last five years and expect the New England Patriots to eschew the inevitable beating and just get in line for their lovely parting gifts backstage.

We’re supposed to forget that the Colts finished the regular season 3-4 in their last seven games. We’re supposed to forget that their run defense couldn’t hold a tackling dummy to less than five yards a pop. The only way Indianapolis’ supposedly resurgent ‘D’ could be more overrated is if it made a last-minute trade for Brian Urlacher.

With a short-term memory so foggy, certainly we’re not going to remember Prototype Peyton outing his offensive line for its inglorious history of “protection problems” last January. Nor would we recall that every single-elimination confrontation between these two teams over the years has resulted in a frightened Manning channeling Tony Eason.

Forget the three Super Bowl rings on Tom Brady’s non-throwing hand. Forget the one Vladimir Putin stole from Robert Kraft.

Ignore the 12-1 playoff record in this decade. Dismiss the defense that picked off 22 passes during the regular season and has Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour lurking among its front seven.

Scratch all that stuff from your cheat sheet, if you wish. Call your bookie. Just don’t dip into the kids’ college fund, because a bet, a hunch or a suspicion against the Patriots this evening is a plea of insanity.

Yes, the Colts are proud owners of a two-game winning streak in this series dating back to last year. They also boast a one-game losing streak against the Houston Texans, but who’s counting?

Even if we are relying strictly upon what the two teams have done for us lately, I’ll take New England and give you points.

Over the last four weeks, the Patriots have: Beaten Jacksonville and Tennessee on the road (Indy’s December away record against those same .500 teams: 0-2); avenged their most frustrating home loss by hammering the Jets; and knocked off this year’s consensus Dynasty In Waiting at San Diego.

On the surface, this week’s matchup is a fraternal twin to the one with the Chargers. The Colts are unbeaten at home (combined winning percentage of those nine opponents: .469). They trot out Pro Bowlers everywhere you look.

CBS, ESPN and the NFL already are lighting candles and praying for victories by the Colts and Saints so they can begin a two-week, full-on promotional assault for the Manning Legacy/Katrina Relief Bowl Presented by Home Depot, a.k.a., Super Bowl XLI.

Not happening, at least on this side of the equation. The Patriots have the superior big-game quarterback, running game, offensive line, run defense, pass defense, special teams (OK, kicker excluded), coach, depth and pedigree.

Know it, learn it, live it, and for goodness sake, don’t let the slicked-back Peyton Manning suckups on TV make you forget it.

Patriots 23, Colts 13.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]

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