FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The pushovers are in the past. Now the New England Patriots must prepare for the powers of the NFL.

They’ll visit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and the New Orleans Saints two weeks later. Both are 8-0 with outstanding quarterbacks and a chance to match New England’s regular-season record of 16-0 in 2007.

The Patriots are on a roll themselves with three straight victories. But the first two were against winless teams, 59-0 over the Tennessee Titans and 35-7 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins was much closer to the competitive level of upcoming opponents.

“It’s always good competition every week,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said Monday. “This is the NFL, no matter what guys’ record is. Tampa Bay just won. Any Sunday is going to be tough, but to play a tough team (Miami) is always good in just preparing you for this week. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up.”

After facing Indianapolis, the Patriots will host the New York Jets, who beat them 16-9 in the second game of the season.

Bodden has good reason to call winless teams competitive. He played for the Detroit Lions last season when they were tied 21-all with the Colts before Indianapolis scored 10 points in the fourth quarter for a 31-21 win. That was Detroit’s 14th loss in an 0-16 season. It also was Indianapolis’s seventh straight win in a regular-season streak that reached 17 with Sunday’s 20-17 win over Houston.

The gap between Indianapolis and New England appears small. Four of the Colts wins were by four points or less. The Patriots losses were by seven and three points.

“I think it’s going to be competitive every week,” safety Brandon McGowan said.

New England’s first five games were close, starting with a 25-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in which Tom Brady threw two scoring passes in the last 2 minutes, 6 seconds. Only one of the other four was decided by more than seven points.

The Patriots (6-2) lead the AFC East by two games, but on Sunday they’ll face their toughest test so far.

“I think we’re approaching it just like any other game,” said Bodden, who sees no reason to change that “just because of anybody’s record, anybody’s winning streak.”

The teams have developed a strong rivalry despite being in different divisions.

The matchup of quarterbacks Brady and Peyton Manning is one reason for that. The teams have faced each other in each of the past six regular seasons with each winning three games. In the AFC championship game in 2006, the Colts rallied in the second half to beat the Patriots 38-34 on their way to the Super Bowl championship.

“Just a great rivalry,” said Bodden, who spent five seasons with the Browns before joining the Lions last year. “I’ve been part of a rivalry with Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It’s not really a rivalry because it’s one-sided, but the Colts and the Patriots, it’s a rivalry just because of AFC championship games. They’re always cream of the crop.”

The hype surrounding the Sunday night game is sure to build as the week goes on.

Typically, coach Bill Belichick doesn’t think he’ll get overexcited.

“The most important thing is what it means to our football team,” he said. “We’re 6-2 and it’s a big game for us on the road. We know it’s an outstanding team. They are undefeated this year, they’ve won 18, 19 in a row, however many it’s been. They’re pretty good. It’s a big challenge for us. That’s really where we’re at.”

The biggest challenge figures to be Manning.

He leads the NFL with a 70.6 completion percentage. He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns and five interceptions and trails only Matt Schaub of Houston in yards passing with 2,545.

“He’s just the ultimate quarterback,” Bodden said. “There’s a route and a run to beat every coverage or defensive front. So he looks at it, he surveys it and he checks out of whatever play he’s in to go to a better play and he has a lot of weapons and he can put the ball on the money in tight coverage.”

And there’s not much Manning hasn’t seen in 12 NFL seasons.

“You can show him 13 players on the field,” linebacker Adalius Thomas said with a laugh. “Other than that, I don’t think you can give him anything new.”

NOTES: Staring C Dan Koppen walked through the locker room without a noticeable limp after a knee injury knocked him out of Sunday’s game. “He’s a fast healer,” Belichick said, without indicating whether he’d play Sunday. … Rookie left tackle Sebastian Vollmer started in place of injured Matt Light for the third straight game and helped hold linebacker Joey Porter without a tackle. “Sebastian’s gotten better each week, even going back to training camp,” Belichick said.


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