By Erik Frenz
Cold, Hard Football Facts Patriots beat reporter

The rivalry between the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers is no Sarah Palin-Glen Rice one-night stand. Everytime these two teams hook up, it's a wild time for all parties involved. And over the past few years, it's happened so much that you'd think these two were somehow connected by some spiritual bond.

New England and San Diego have fielded two of the most potent pass attacks in the NFL for years. These units are spearheaded by a couple of gun-slinging mavericks in Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Neither of these mavericks are running for office anytime soon, but that's okay with us. We don't want to hear them talk about calling an audible on the national deficit. We'd rather hear them call an audible to expose a weakness in an opposing defense, anyway.

Speaking of which, as important as those quarterbacks are to their teams, it will be the play of the defenses and their ability to throw off the timing of those quarterbacks that ultimately decides this game.

Tom Brady described San Diego as an "attacking defense" with "great players at every position." If last year is any indication, they should still give New England fits, especially in the front seven. San Diego tallied four sacks on Brady in 36 of his drop backs (11.11% Negative Pass Plays).

Here are some "shocking" comparisons between New England's offense and San Diego's defense from 2010:

Stat New England Patriots offense San Diego Chargers defense
Hog Index 1 1
Negative Pass Play % 5.64% (3rd) 11.74 (2nd)
Passer Rating 111.0 (1st) 76.14 (4th)

The two units succeed largely because of their dominance through the air.

Of course, the Chargers are off to a hot start to 2011 forcing three Negative Pass Plays (2 sacks, 1 interception) on Donovan McNabb's 17 dropbacks (17.65%).

San Diego is hoping that lightning can strike twice, though their purveyor of pressure Ron Rivera has left for less green pastures in Carolina, the potent pass rush figures to return in 2011.

It should come as no surprise, though, that New England also got off to a hot start down in Miami. 517 passing yards later, Brady looks primed to fire a point blank musket shot through the head of the NFL, despite losing their center for the first eight to 10 weeks of the season.

On the flip side, while New England fielded one of the worst units in terms of their pass rush (36 sacks in 2011, ranked 26th in pass rush by Pro Football Focus) they looked much improved on Monday night (four sacks, ranked first in pass rush by PFF). They will need more of the same against San Diego on Sunday if they are to rain on San Diego's parade.

What's scary about this for Patriots fans is that despite their potent pass rush of Week 1, they still yielded a jaw dropping 8.5 yards per attempt to Chad Henne, who is to lethal quarterbacking what Applebee's is to New York sirloin steak. Rivers, however, is fresh out of a steak house with three consecutive season's as the league's leader in YPA (8.4 in 2008, 8.8 in 2009, 8.7 in '10).

Guys like Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are match-up problems for most defenses, and though the size advantage they have over guys like Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling may be worrisome, it's Antonio Gates that should be worrimost (yes, I know I just invented a word). Gary Guyton was burned by Anthony Fasano, and Gates is just marginally better than Fasano. Just marginally. As in potential Hall of Famer marginally. As in the difference between butter and margarine marginal. There's really no substitute, even if the label says, "I Can't Belive It's Not Butter!" Once Guyton lines up across from Gates, he'll know the difference. 

All these match-ups will go out the window once the opening whistle blows. These games are as fluky as they come, a veritable Cirque du Soleil of football, with amazing displays of football prowess up and down the field, and a lot of unexpected turns. Dating back to the 2006 playoffs, these games have been decided by 3, 24, 20, and 3 points. The first and most recent of those games were decided by missed field goals by a kicker who, incidentally, will be absent for this game.

Anyone care to predict the outcome?

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