The Chargers boast the No. 1 offense and defense in the league, so they should have a sizable advantage, right?
One phase of the game could have more bearing on the outcome than those two: special teams. The Chargers know this firsthand, as they've experienced several special teams blunders over the course of their rough 2-4 start to the season.
The Patriots know it, too. Look no further than their 41-14 drubbing of the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, in which the defense allowed Miami to march up and down the field, more than content with a blocked kick, a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown to lift them to victory.
Of course, the Patriots can't rely on that kind of performance week-in and week-out.
But their chances of achieving it are good against the Chargers, since San Diego's special teams has been historically abominable this season. Bad enough, at least, to all but negate their No. 1-ranked offense and defense on their way to 2-4.
In fact, they can directly attribute each of their losses to such plays. Kick returns, punt blocks and field goal blocks have become par for the course for the Chargers.
According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots rank sixth in the league in DVOA on special teams.
The Chargers? You guessed it—dead last.
Thus far, the Patriots have only forfeited one touchdown on a kickoff return by CJ Spiller in Week 3. The Chargers don't do so well in the return game, with only 22 yards per kickoff return and 7.7 yards per punt return.
Neither should be a concern with Stephen Gostkowski booting kickoffs out of the back of the end zone every chance he gets, and though Zoltan Mesko hasn't been phenomenal, he made some strides in the Baltimore game with punts averaging 47.2 yards, with two burying the Ravens inside their own 20 and one boomer that traveled 65 yards before finally being stopped.
The Chargers, on the other hand, have given up three touchdown returns on special teams this season. That could be an issue for them against Brandon Tate, who has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season while averaging 32.6 yards per return on his 19 returns.
In sports, we often use analogies to convey just how we feel about a certain subject.
Three blocked Mike Scifres punts and two blocked field goals have been the numbers behind the story of five different long snappers through the first six games, which Chris Jenkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune eloquently analogizes with the revolving door of drummers for Spinal Tap.
The first four—including David Binn, the Chargers starting long snapper for the past 16 straight seasons—went down to injury, and Ethan Albright went to the unemployment line.
Little-known rookie Mike Windt from the University of Cincinnati could be the next lucky contestant on Who Wants To Be On Patrick Chung's Next Highlight Reel?
Now, I offer my own analogy.
A special teams unit is like a rottweiler. Trained well, and taught discipline, it can be your best friend. Without proper training and discipline, it runs wild and causes trouble.
New England's purebred special teams, trained by the discipline king Bill Belichick, is easily a candidate for "Best in Show" in 2010.
San Diego's special teams unit just better hope they don't drop a deuce on the grass in front of 62,000-plus at Qualcomm Stadium and millions at home. The punishment and subsequent tongue-lashing by Norv Turner could be enough to make them whimper.
The Patriots pack enough bite on special teams to make the Chargers run home with their tail tucked between their legs.