Scouting Report: New England Patriots

No team is a bigger threat to the San Diego Chargers' quest for a Super Bowl appearance than the New England Patriots. After an extremely active offseason, the Patriots have become a chic pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLII. The Chargers, however, are unimpressed, and are determined to prove as much when the two teams meet at Gillette Stadium in week two.

The New England Patriots opened the coffers this offseason, with a good chunk of that money going to the wide receiver position. The Pats traded for Randy Moss and Wes Welker, in addition to signing Donté Stallworth and Kelley Washington as free agents. New England has some talented holdovers, too, including a trio of former Florida Gators: Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and Chad Jackson.

On defense, the big addition was Adalius Thomas, a do-it-all linebacker from the Baltimore Ravens who should wreak havoc in the Patriots' flexible 3-4 defense. In the secondary, the Pats added Tory James, a playmaking cover corner with 39 career interceptions.

So, how can the Chargers compete with this AFC East juggernaut, the same one that ousted the Bolts from the playoffs last season? The answer is simple: improvement from within.

Several of San Diego's best players have been in the NFL for three seasons or less. That list includes Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo, Igor Olshansky, Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill, Nick Hardwick, Shane Olivea and Antonio Cromartie. With these players still improving, the Chargers certainly have the talent to go toe to toe with the Patriots.

Some have suggested that the Chargers might regress because of turnover in the coaching ranks. That, however, seems a bit nitpicky.

"We should be good early and we should be good late," Head Coach Norv Turner said. "Not having to go through the normal things you have to go through when you make a coaching change is going to help the players more than anything."

Furthermore, it is ridiculous to assume that all of New England's big-name additions will pan out. Anyone who saw Randy Moss play during his stint with the Oakland Raiders knows he appeared about as useful as a wet tissue. To expect Bill Belichick to wave a magic wand and make Moss productive again might be too much to ask.

No matter how New England's signings work out, the Patriots and Chargers will likely spend much of the 2007 season jockeying for playoff positioning. Of course, the tie-breaker will be up for grabs when the teams meet in Foxborough in week two, as the Chargers seek revenge against the team that bounced them in January.

"I think everybody remembers the way they disrespected us at the end of that game," Malcom Floyd said. "I'm still mad about it and I hope to use that when I get on the field."

It is impossible to know which team will fare better in 2007. But one thing is for certain -- that week-two showdown will be a classic.

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