By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 04, 2005

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There won't be any snow. Maybe there'll be Walt Coleman.

The Oakland Raiders will be chapter one of the Patriots' hopeful odyssey which will eventually culminate with a record third straight Super Bowl win. The Raiders are making their first ever visit to Gillette Stadium, but certainly not their first visit to the town of Foxborough. Their last visit here was replete with snow and tucks, but that's talk for another day.

The major questions regarding Thursday night surround whether or not Bill Belichick kept the right players which will continue the championship ways of the Patriots. Belichick made his final cuts a day early on Saturday, with Sunday being the official deadline to get down to 53. 45 will dress for any particular game with eight designated as inactive, but all teams needed to be down to 53 by Sunday. 17 players were sent packing on Saturday by Belichick.

Belichick is going with a whopping ten defensive backs, which is not a bad idea, and only eight offensive linemen, which could be tempting fate. Belichick opted for three tight ends and six wide receivers, sending several veterans packing along the way.

Offensive players let go which were notable included Jed Weaver, David Terrell, P.K. Sam and Gene Mruczkowski. There was simply no room for Weaver, who really didn't play himself out of a job. Terrell now wears the "bust"ť moniker for all to see, and still has a ways to go to prove he can actually play in the NFL, let alone at the level of someone drafted as high as he was. Sam might still catch on somewhere else, though he has to grow up somewhere along the way. Mruczkowski was a bit of a surprise, him being a decent backup center. The Patriots are left with no one who has center play on their resume to back up Dan Koppen other than long snapper Lonie Paxton.

On defense, keeping Mike Wright over Rodney Bailey was rather a surprise, given the high price the Patriots paid for Bailey. Another surprise was Wesly Mallard making the team at linebacker, a reward for having played well in the preseason. Dan Klecko remains on the roster and listed as a linebacker, meaning that the Patriots still think he can fit in somewhere.

But this is all blabber over the final eight to ten men to make the team. The top twenty-two are who will actually suit up and play Thursday night in the season opener, all of whom were allowed to skip last week's preseason finale against the Giants. It's their top 22 against Oakland's top 22, as things finally get real.

The general feeling is that Kerry Collins will not get any time at all to find his new prize receiver, Randy Moss, and that the Patriots will run roughshod over the aging Oakland defense which has several ties to New England and many players whose better days may have passed them by. Having the game at home, with the unveiling of the new Super Bowl banner as part of the festivities, certainly throws plenty of intangibles in New England's favor.

The Raiders also added Lamont Jordan to their offensive attack. Finally free from the shadow of Curtis Martin in Gotham, Jordan is looking forward to a big season out in Oakland.

What might concern Patriot defensive backs a bit might be the fact that Moss lines up opposite Jerry Porter, one of the holdovers from the Snow Bowl. Porter, who went down early in that 2001 playoff contest with a shoulder injury, will force Belichick and Eric Mangini to come up with exotic secondary coverage plans right from the get-go. However, if the Patriots can get a lot of pressure on Collins (a strategy which didn't work in 2001 when the Patriots lost to Kurt Warner and the Rams in the regular season) and force him to make quick throws, it will help neutralize Moss a great deal because Moss's strength is in deep routes.

One matchup worth watching is Robert Gallery and either Richard Seymour or Rosevelt Colvin. Gallery, the second pick in the 2004 draft, is a massive left tackle from Iowa who had a good rookie season. If Colvin can attack Collins by using his speed (which he says has returned to pre-hip injury levels) to thwart Gallery, Collins will be in for a long night. Seymour ties up blockers more than he pass rushes, but Belichick may ask Seymour to rush more in 2005.

If the Patriots are to make the hay like everyone says they will on offense, they will have to dominate the line of scrimmage. To do so means they will have to take on former teammates Bobby Hamilton and Ted Washington, and former Tampa Bay loudmouth Warren Sapp. The Raiders play a 4-3, which means that Washington is out of his element (as opposed to nose tackle in a 3-4). Plus, Washington is now 37 years old, and Hamilton is 34. Sapp will be 33 in December, but the talk about Russ Hochstein's nemesis is that Sapp talks a better game than he plays, and that is annoying his teammates quite a bit.

Belichick will likely opt to flood the Oakland secondary with multiple receiver packages to take away the shutdown capability of Charles Woodson, another snow bowl holdover. Aside from every Patriot watching more carefully for corner blitzes from Woodson, the Patriots may use two-tight end packages and involve Ben Watson a great deal. Daniel Graham might be in there chiefly to give Tom Ashworth help at right tackle. If Woodson seals off Deion Branch, Watson, David Givens and Troy Brown should see lots of receptions. Andre' Davis still needs to learn the offense before he becomes more of a factor.

Simply stated, the Patriots are superior on paper. At home, with the banner unveiling, on national television, the Patriots would have to go into complete brainlock to come out on the short end of this one. The Raiders got their snow bowl revenge in 2002, a 27-20 win out in Oakland on November 17th. If Woodson still has a chip on his shoulder, that alone won't make up for the overall personnel deficit his team will have against the two-time Super Bowl champs.

Should complete brainlock occur, everyone will immediately point to the absence of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel as the main reason. Weis, who won his debut with Notre Dame on Saturday against Pitt, 42-21, wasn't replaced on the Patriot coaching staff, leaving everyone to wonder who really will be calling the offensive plays for the Patriots on Thursday. Perhaps it won't matter, but if the Patriots lose, this subject will come up often.

Fortunately, it won't be long before football becomes all about Sundays once again. This is the second year in a row the Patriots open on Thursday. Such as things go when you win the whole thing.

Or, in the Patriots' case, several whole things.


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