FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Preparing for a season opener is especially difficult, even for the defending Super Bowl champions.

The New England Patriots have no recent regular-season game tapes of the Raiders to study. They don’t know how newcomers Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan will change Oakland’s offense. The Patriots themselves have important new players still adjusting to a complex system.

They’ll see how well they got ready when they face the Raiders in the NFL’s first game Thursday night.

“There’s a little bit more guesswork and, no matter what you prepare for, you’re probably going to see something new,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday.

The Raiders finished last in the AFC West with a 5-11 record last season. They allowed the second most points in the NFL and gained the fewest yards rushing. New England had the No. 6 defense against the run.

But that was before Moss became their top wide receiver, giving them a catching threat and taking some pressure off the rushing game, which now has Jordan.

“You look at some film from Minnesota with Moss and a little bit from the (New York) Jets with Jordan, although both of those players have played in preseason,” Belichick said. “You try to focus on the things that you know (the Raiders) are going to do and prepare the best you can for other alternatives.”

Then be prepared to adjust after the game starts.

That may not be as smooth as it was last season when Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson were the starting inside linebackers. But Bruschi is sitting out the season after suffering a stroke and Johnson retired. They were replaced as starters by offseason acquisitions Chad Brown and Monty Beisel.

Both are more comfortable with the defense after training camp and four exhibition games. But teams try not to reveal much in those games that can help an opponent prepare for a regular-season game.

“It’s a guessing game,” Brown said. “You have the unknown. Every team’s going to have some kind of new wrinkle opening day. So what is that wrinkle going to be? You look back at the coach’s old film, places he’s been before.

“It is a bit of a guessing game and there’s no way of really being accurate with your guesses. You just have to be prepared to get to the sideline and adjust.”

That’s something the Patriots have done very well under Belichick, so well that they’ve won three of the last four Super Bowls and the last two.

That success doesn’t matter to the Patriots as they get ready for another season. Having beaten St. Louis, Carolina and Philadelphia in the Super Bowl won’t help them beat Oakland on Thursday.

“Our goal is we keep everything consistent,” linebacker Willie McGinest said. “Our goal remains we want to win one game a week and that’s with the Raiders.” Some players they studied won’t be around after being released Saturday when teams reduced their roster to the 53-player limit.

“It’s very difficult,” Beisel said, “especially preparing for guys like (tight end) Teyo Johnson (and fullback Chris) Hetherington, guys that you’ve been preparing for, now they’re not there.”

The lack of game films complicates preparations, but it wouldn’t be easy to face the Raiders even if the game were played late in the season.

“I don’t know of any of (the games) that are easy to play,” tackle Matt Light said, “but this one definitely sets the tempo and this is definitely going to be a big game.”

AP-ES-09-05-05 1927EDT


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