by Scott Benson

Last time on our show, we previewed the first quarter of the Patriots 2008 schedule, in which they will match up with four of the worst teams in football last year. In today’s installment, we’ll run through the schedule’s second leg, which begins with the Patriots playing their second straight game on the other side of the country.

Game Five, Sunday, October 12
Patriots at San Diego Chargers
8:15 PM, NBC

Back end of a virtual day-night doubleheader on the coast, after last week’s game with the Niners. And who do the Patriots find at this point in the schedule but the San Diego Chargers, who would beat New England nine times out of ten, according to star running back LaDanian Favre Tomlinson.

Maybe they ought to concentrate on beating them just once, for their much ballyhooed playoff team has failed brilliantly at that in each of the last two seasons. So much so that their GM acknowledges a particular focus on the team that has sent his allegedly more talented club to the showers two years running.

“For Christmas, I got ‘The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Super Power’ by Christopher Price,” Smith said. “I’ve read all the books put out on the New England Patriots organization. There aren’t trade secrets, but just general thoughts on why they’ve been successful.”

PD’s (and the Metro’s and Thomas Dunne Books’) own Chris Price! Ka-ching! This could work to the Pats advantage. In his next book, Chris can throw in some stuff about how the Pats train underwater and insist their players speak a minimum of four languages.

Anyway, I’m banking on the idea that, despite Smith’s humility, a few too many of the Chargers still think it’s Monday morning, October 3rd, 2005, and they’ve just this minute beaten the tar out of the Pats, 41-17. Which goes to further buttress my theory that the Chargers are knuckleheads, even when you don’t count Phillip Rivers (who actually turned in a gutty AFCCG performance, to his credit). They may straighten out long enough to beat the Pats here, though, even if they don’t prove to be any more of a post season threat that their previous entries. I think we have to allow for that possibility. After all, Chris gave them the damn blueprint.

San Diego last entertained the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Divisional playoff, the last in a long line of times that Troy Brown saved the Patriots’ bacon. Before that? September of 2002, when the Chargers prevailed over the only Tom Brady-led team to miss the playoffs.

Oh, and we have John Madden on Brett LaDainian Tomlinson to look forward to. There isn’t any way you can synch up with HD, WBCN?

Game Six, Monday, October 20
Denver Broncos at Patriots
8:30 PM, ESPN

Denver is just 16-16 in its last thirty-two games but there isn’t a Patriots fan alive who (if they’re being honest) doesn’t fear them a little, anyway. Mainly because Mike Shanahan is still Denver’s coach, and even though he may be the worst personnel guy on the planet, he’s still 5-2 (including a playoff win) over Bill Belichick as coach of the Patriots, and New England hasn’t beaten Denver since 2003.

Not to mention a football childhood scarred by decades of Mile High fumbles and last minute safeties and every damn thing else you can think of, including NFL Films lowlights that will live forever in infamy (“We’re killing the Patriots!”). Denver’s just bad mojo, man.

They’re a train wreck at the moment, though. Denver was 21st in scoring and 28th in defense last year, and with Shanny at the helm, the NFL’s worst personnel department did little in the off-season to give their supporters hope for 08. And for once, the NFL is going to make the Broncos travel to Foxborough for just the third time in the last eight games between the teams.

Denver’s last appearance at Gillette was a 17-7 win over the Pats in September of 06, their second straight win in Foxborough (02). In fact, their last road loss to the Pats came in 1999.

Game Seven, Sunday, October 26
St. Louis Rams at Patriots
1:00 PM, FOX

At times last season, the Rams were neck and neck with Miami for the right to pick first in the 08 Draft, then they won three out of four in late November and that was that. But the mini-streak was simply an anomoly for the Rams, who promptly dropped their final four to close the season. St. Louis is 25-39 since they went 12-4 in 2004.

I ask you; will that turn around to the extent that they will go on the road and beat the Patriots in week eight? Players like Stephen Jackson and Torry Holt present a challenge, but collectively, they’re firmly in the bottom third of the league.

I’m pretty sure the majority of Patriots fans can recite chapter and verse on the last Rams visit to Foxborough; the frustrating 01 loss when a third quarter goal-line fumble by Antowain Smith let the air out of the emerging Pats, shooting for a prime-time upset of the then-“best team in football”.

Game Eight, Sunday, November 2
Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
8:15 PM, NBC

The NFL knows what side its bread is buttered on, so even if the final standings didn’t dictate this near-annual matchup, somebody would. Pats and Colts is big business.

However, since we last saw Indy (a dramatic come from behind road win by New England that kept the Pats perfect through 9 games), they lost to the Chargers twice (the second made them one and done for their championship-defending playoff), they had a generally blah free agency period, Marvin Harrison took a shot at some guy apparently (it’s always the quiet ones), and Peyton Manning lost part of his training camp and the pre-season to knee surgery. That puts Manning, Harrison (knee) and pass rusher Dwight Freeney (foot) at the top of the “who knows?” list, at least as we speak.

Still, you know they’ll be right there when this game comes along, even if Jim Sorgi has to play more than just a few pre-season games. Their defense is intact and at times over the past couple of years, they’ve been the Colts best unit. And Manning’s gaudy stats belie his toughness, so I’m sure his rehab will only extend so far as the games that don’t count.

This will be the Pats first visit to Lucas Oil Stadium, which really would have been a much better stadium for the Houston Oilers. Hopefully by week nine, Colts fans would have already started in with the “this place isn’t as loud as the old place” and “the old place didn’t have these giant f**king PILLARS right in front of my seat” stuff.

2nd Quarter Outlook

San Diego on the back end of two West Coast games sounds like it could be trouble, and the Colts in Indy doesn’t sound like a picnic either. At least they have the two-game home stretch in between, but it’s fair to say that this sgement of the schedule is a bit more taxing than the last. Predictably, I believe the Pats will prove in the long run to be better than either the Chargers or Colts, but New England will reach the halfway point of the season only after they’ve endured two of the most difficult road trips in the AFC.