Sure, it’s technically a home game but the Raiders host the hot Patriots in another international game in Mexico City – if only it was in Oakland.
It’s that time of the year when teams in the NFL either assert their playoff readiness or fall back in the back and start plotting their draft strategy for 2018. Which group do the Oakland Raiders belong to? This week may very well tell us everything we need to know. Coming off a much-needed bye week, the Raiders get their stiffest test yet in a high-powered New England Patriots that certainly has its weaknesses including the league’s worst defense.
Here are four things to watch in today’s game in Mexico City:
- Raiders on the Rise: Ok, the Raiders have yet to stitch two wins together since the first two weeks of the season, but they showed great promise in the Miami win as Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing opened up the offense and started using the full complement of the Raiders weapons fully. This, coupled with the fortuitous three loses by the Kansas City Chiefs, means the Raiders playoff chances – once almost completely dead – have improved. It’s still a long way from Estadia Azteca to the 2017 playoffs, but the team has to feel good about at least having some semblance of a chance.
- It’s About to get Offensive: The bottom line in our view is the Raiders will have to outscore the Patriots and posses the ball last to win this game. Let’s face it, even though the Raiders defense has improved in many areas – at least incrementally – they’re not going to contain Tom Brady. The Raiders have fallen to No. 22 in defense and will face a Brady who has posted 249, 333 and 266 yards passing over the last three games. That doesn’t bode well for Raider Nation. The great neutralizer in this scenario could be Khalil Mack rushing off the edge. The Patriots offensive line is shaky at best and allow more sacks per game than in past years. While not the worst in the league, they certainly aren’t protecting Brady like they used to. Look for the Raiders to pressure Brady and disrupt him just enough to make it close.
- Turnaround is Fair Play: We’ve talked about how good the Patriots offense is, so let’s now talk about New England’s biggest weakness: it’s 32nd ranked pass defense. This is exactly the kind of matchup you want if you’re the Raiders and Derek Carr. Carr needs to come with his A-game as does the Raiders offensive coaching staff. A solid day by Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree would mean a nice bit of momentum starting the Raiders brutal homestretch schedule. A setback with the offense against New England would prove disastrous for Oakland.
- Two Teams on the Road: Yes, it’s technically a home game for Oakland. Yet Mexico City is anything but a traditional NFL venue. This is a road game for both teams despite the fan advantage the Raiders may have in Mexico. The Raiders haven’t played a game in Oakland in over a month and having their toughest matchup (sans the Philly game later on in the season) away from the Coliseum does not help their cause. Will the allure of the Champion Patriots actually bring out Mexican fans wearing Brady and Rob Gronkowski jerseys? Or will the crowd rep the Silver and Black as in years past? That remains to be seen. It is a toss-up on who will have “home field” advantage today in Mexico City.
No matter which way you look at this game, it’s not going to be easy. As we said on our Las Vegas Raiders Report Podcast this week, this game will most likely come down to who has the last possession. If the Raiders can put the game in Carr’s hands late, Oakland could make even more noise in the solidifying playoff picture. If Brady has the ball last, it more than likely will once and for all kill the Raiders playoff aspirations for what has been an odd 2017 season.
LVRR Prediction: Raiders 35, Patriots 34
BONUS: Thanks to NFL Films, here’s a look at the history between the Raiders and Patriots.