Changing of the guard

The Patriots' 11-1 postseason record under the dual guidance of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady can be intimidating – only it isn't. At least not to the Chargers, who are more concerned with their own play than the team lining up across from them. What the critics have deemed a tough draw, the Chargers see as a golden opportunity.

Much has been made of the mystique of the Patriots and of Belichick's reputation as a schematic genius. However, mystique won't tackle LaDainian Tomlinson and reputation won't block Shawne Merriman. The Chargers are well aware of New England's recent postseason successes and aren't exactly shaking in their cleats.

"They're as loose as a goose," said Marty Schottenheimer of his players. "I'm not sure if it's good or bad but I'm going to let it play out."

The Chargers are a confident team and rightfully so. Winning fourteen games riding a 10-game winning streak will do that for you. But, unlike 2004, this team is not content with merely qualifying for the postseason. This squad has the talent to shoot through the playoffs like poop through a goose and plans on doing exactly that.

It's not that the Chargers don't respect the Patriots. Former Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady is arguably the league's best quarterback; Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon lead a strong rushing attack; and the defensive front seven is loaded with stars such as Richard Seymour and Rosevelt Colvin.

The Chargers know the Patriots are good, they just don't care.

"All we can do is worry about Charger football and how the San Diego Chargers play on Sunday. That's what we're going to do, control San Diego," Shaun Phillips said.

New England's biggest edge would seem to be in the coaching ranks, where Belichick pits his 11-2 career playoff record against the 5-12 mark of Schottenheimer.

But anyone expecting the Chargers to turtle and play a conservative verse of Martyball is in for a rude awakening. Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips are two of the league's most aggressive coordinators and each will have total autonomy on Sunday.

"I have changed my approach in every regard to this game," Schottenheimer said.

This game is being billed as a showdown between the team of the year and the team of the decade. Luckily for the Chargers, the playoffs are only about the here and now.

New England is viewed as the epitome of playoff success and San Diego would like nothing more than to shanghai that crown.

"They have been there and done that, which I am sure gives them a lot of confidence," said Nick Hardwick of the Patriots. "It is unknown territory for us, but we are willing to explore."


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