There was a picture in the paper of Bill Belichick smiling on the sidelines.during the Patriots’ opener Sunday against the Jets. You don’t get a lot of coach Bill smiling when a game is in progress, no matter what the score is. In fact, Belichick smiles about as often as taxes are lowered.

There was a picture in the paper of Bill Belichick smiling on the sidelines.during the Patriots’ opener Sunday against the Jets. You don’t get a lot of coach Bill smiling when a game is in progress, no matter what the score is. In fact, Belichick smiles about as often as taxes are lowered.

So, did he know something no one else knew?

The Pats chewed up and spit out the Jets with surprising ease. Next day came the firestorm: The NFL confirmed it was looking into the possibility that the Pats may have cheated by having a guy at field level filming the Jets’signals for information that could be useful during the game.

Pretty neat, if you can get away with it. Where would the Patriots get such an idea? From the old TV show “Candid Camera?” From “I Spy”, the Bill Cosby-Robert Culp classic? Or were they just having a Kodak Moment?

Belichick, to no one’s surprise, said on WEEI that he didn’t comment on league matters, but seemed to leave himself open for censure by finishing with “Whatever the deal is, which I don’t really know the details … we’ll comply.”

Isn’t this getting just a bit tiresome? We’re in the midst of steroid and illegal enhancement era in sports. We don’t know when it started or if it will end. Barry Bonds became the cheaters’ poster boy. Sammy Sosa, Rodney Harrison, Mark McGwire, Shawne Merriman have damaged their reputations. They’ve become yesterday’s news fast. Now Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and Jay Gibbons are suspects. If there was anyone you wanted to root for, it’s Ankiel.

But here’s the deal. Whether the Patriots are guilty or absolved in the next few days will have no bearing Sunday night when they play the Chargers at Gillette Stadium. OK, maybe there’ll be one less Patriots official with a video cam on the sidelines. But even if the league comes down hard on the Patriots for any wrongdoing in this matter, even if it strips the team of a draft choice or hands out fines, no problem. Suspensions are a possibility.

But who would they suspend, the guy with the camera or the guy who ordered him to do the dirty deed? Have to be Belichick, wouldn’t it? Now that would be huge, the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach suspended for breaking the rules! A baseball manager getting suspended happens all the time. It’s just one game of 162. An NFL coach gets suspended, that’s 1/16th of the season.

Simply put, the Pats vs. Chargers might be the most eagerly awaited EARLY season game in New England ever. Two reasons: 1) Both teams have a very, very legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl 2) they have a recent ornery history that only trails back to the playoffs last season when the Pats beat the Chargers on their field, then complained later that the victory dance was bush league. LaDainian Tomlinson, the wondrous Charger back, called the Pats “classless.”

He was incensed that some of the Patriots whooped it up on the Chargers logo. That’s a no-no in the NFL, second only to calling an opponent’s sister a dirty rotten name.

If the Chargers win Sunday, will Tomlinson audition for “Dancing With The Stars” on the Gillette turf?

Bad feelings aside, Pats vs. Chargers stands on its own merits as must-see TV game. What’s Act Two going to be like for Tom Brady and Randy Moss? Brady’s passer rating against the Jets was 146.6. Moss --- 183 yards --- only needed one game to have the third best yardage game by a Patriots’ receiver. It was also Moss’s third best personally. Who needs preseason games?

Don’t expect the Pats defense to do unto Tomlinson what the Bears did Sunday, holding him to an unheard of 25 yards on 17 carries. Extreme abberration. Tomlinson can spit farther than 25 yards. It was the San Diego defense that got it done, 14-3. With the bile Tomlinson has for the Patriots, he’ll be extra pumped for this game. An uber-motivated Tomlinson is not a good thing for any defense. Are the Pats up to it?

This one has all the makings. Just, no fightin’, boys, OK? No name-calling. No dancing. And no cheating.

(Lenny Megliola is a MetroWest Daily News columnist. His e-mail is lennymegs@aol.com)