FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Seattle isn’t exactly the NFL’s version of purgatory. Nice city. A sometimes-successful team that is rebuilding.

But after playing for the Seahawks the last four seasons, Deion Branch is happy to be back on the East Coast, playing for the team that drafted him, the New England Patriots, happy to be somewhere where games are meaningful each and every week.

“I played in a lot of games in Seattle that meant something,” said Branch, who began his career with the Patriots, was traded to Seattle on Sept. 11, 2006 during a contract impasse and came back to the Patriots in a trade on Oct. 12. “I played in a lot of big-time rivalries. But to have them back-to-back-to-back-to-back, that’s different.

“You’ve got to get yourself going each and every week playing here. Everybody’s going to throw their best at the Patriots. And everybody’s going to throw their best at the (Indianapolis) Colts.”

In that case, we should have a heck of a game today, when the Patriots (7-2) play the Colts (6-3) at Gillette Stadium at 4:15 p.m. Over the years, this game has become one of the NFL’s best rivalries, fueled by the competition between New England’s Tom Brady and Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning — each considered the best quarterback in the NFL, depending on who you talk to.

Those involved try to diffuse the rivalry.

“I think it’s the next biggest game on our schedule,” said Branch, who has 23 receptions for 250 yards and a touchdown in five games for the Patriots. “I think the biggest thing is for us not to get caught up in the rivalry. It’s the next biggest game on our schedule. We’ve got to go out and execute our plays and hopefully win.”

Jim Caldwell, the Colts’ head coach, said the significance of the game is that both teams are playing well right now.

“What we do is look at it as an opportunity to play against a great football team,” said Caldwell. “And we just have to get prepared to play. We don’t add anything extra to it. It’s our next game, it’s the most important game that we have right now, and it’s the one we focused in on.”

Branch arrived in New England days after Randy Moss was traded to the Vikings (who have since dropped him). Without Moss, the Patriots are still trying to find a deep threat. But it hasn’t slowed them down much.

“All I know is that they’re still, I think, the No. 1 scoring offense in the league,” said Caldwell. They are, at 28.7 points per game. “They’re very effective. They certainly score a bunch of points and move the ball extremely well. They have one of the finest quarterbacks in the league and one of the great head coaches in the league, so they haven’t missed a beat.”

Branch said he never doubted the offense would click, even after games like the one in Cleveland, where the Patriots were throttled, 34-14.

“I know what type of players we have,” he said.

New England has players such Wes Welker, the best slot receiver in the NFL, and young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Welker already has 52 catches for 444 yards and three touchdowns. Branch, who still has his infectious laugh, said he loves to watch Welker operate in the middle of the field.

“That guy pretty much controls the inside of the football field, the attraction he gets from defenders,” said Branch. “For a guy to be 5-1 (Welker is listed at 5-9, same as Branch and Danny Woodhead) and still attract that attention and do what he does he’s got a big heart.”

Gronkowski, meanwhile, leads the team with six touchdown receptions — three in last week’s 39-26 pounding of Pittsburgh — and Hernandez averages 12.8 yards per catch.

Branch said the key to beating the Colts is simple:

“You’ve got to pretty much play a perfect game against those guys. They’ve got an explosive offense, a defense that is very sound, guys who don’t make a lot of mistakes. They don’t give up a lot of points. We’ve got to make sure we convert on third downs, score when we get in the red area, don’t have any turnovers and stay away from those penalties We’ve got to be on top of our game.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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