The NFL makes its way south of the border on Sunday as the New England Patriots travel to Mexico City to take on the Oakland Raiders. This will be the 35th meeting between these two teams which dates back to their AFL days. The Patriots hold the all-time series lead 18-15-1 which includes winning 5 of the last 6 matchups.
For the Patriots, things seems business as usual….They are in 1st place in the AFC East and making their late season push to secure one of the two top seeds in the AFC Playoffs. Coming off a 41-16 dismantling of the Broncos in Denver, New England decided to stay in Colorado this week to ensure that their players are acclimated to the high altitude conditions that they will face in Mexico City.
The Raiders who have lost 5 of their last 7 games are trying to right the ship and keep pace in both the AFC West as well as the Wildcard race.
Playoff implications are on the line so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: While Derek Carr has had an impressive start to his NFL career, he is going against arguably one of the best quarterbacks of all-time in Tom Brady who is having an MVP like season.
Running Backs – Patriots: Though Marshawn Lynch is a household name that anchors the Raiders running backs, the plethora of running backs that the Patriots have, led by Dion Lewis, gives New England a clear advantage with the multiple ways they can utilize their personnel.
Wide Receivers – Raiders: Oakland’s Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could be one of the NFL’s top WR duos. With New England still missing Chris Hogan with a shoulder injury, the Patriots are very thin at this positional group.
Tight Ends – Patriots: The Raiders’ Jared Cook is one of the top tight ends in the league and is currently 4th in yards in the NFL for tight ends. He shredded the lowly Dolphins pass defense with his 8 catch 126 yard performance a couple of weeks ago. However, with the return of Martellus Bennett, the Patriots could, once again, have the best TE group in the NFL.
Offensive Line – Push: The Raiders have the highest paid Offensive Line in the NFL. However while they have excelled in pass protection, they have not been as dominant in run blocking as their Patriots’ counterparts.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Led by Khalil Mack, on paper the Raiders have a much more talented front seven than the injury riddled Patriots. However, both units are practically identical in on field production in stopping the run and getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Secondary – Push: Sunday’s game will feature two of the most porous defensive backfields in the AFC. While Oakland is allowing a league worst 110.5 QB Rating to opposing quarterbacks, the Patriots are allowing a league worst 287 yards per game to opposing passers.
Special Teams – Patriots: While both teams have dynamic game changing returners in Cordarrelle Patterson for Oakland and Dion Lewis for New England, the Patriots get the edge because of Stephen Gostkowski who has shown some hope of rebounding from a lousy 2016 campaign.
Coaching – Patriots: Jack Del Rio was a surprising hire by the Oakland Raiders before the 2015 season. Most figured this was just the Raiders doing dumb Raider like things. While his first year in Oakland didn’t grab anyone’s attention, Del Rio shocked the NFL by leading the Raiders to 12-4 last year. However, Del Rio’s record as coach has not been very good and history has shown that every double digit winning season he has coached he has followed it with a single digit win season. The only thing missing from Del Rio’s resume with the Raiders is a freak axe related accident in the locker room that puts a player on IR.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to Victory:
1) Watch that Khalil Mack guy: Even though Raiders Khalil Mack’s sack numbers are dipping from what he has done in the past, that’s no reason for the Patriots not to keep a close eye on where he is at all times and provide the tackles some extra help if needed.
2) Better Defensive Play: While the Patriots defense has shown some positive signs over the last several games, there are still major concerns with the depth in the front seven and the poor play of the secondary. This week could be a challenge against the Raiders passing game but the Patriots should not be afraid to play more coverage based on the Raiders inability to consistently run the ball.
3) Get the Wide Receivers Involved: The Raiders secondary has not played well and it’s evident by the way that sub-par teams with sub-par offensive personnel, like the lowly Dolphins, were able to throw against them. The Patriots should try to take advantage of this and try to take more shots down the field to exploit this weakness.
It’s no secret that the best way to slow down the Patriots is to get pressure on Tom Brady. While the Patriots have done well passing against the blitz, there needs to be a conscious effort to identify the key pass rushers on the Raiders to allow Brady time to take advantage of the Raiders’ pass defense. On the defensive side, shaky secondary play, no pass rush, and poor tackling will not get it done against an Oakland team that likes to throw the ball. The defense must be disciplined and fundamentally sound to make up for shortfalls in personnel.
Expect a high scoring passing fest with secondary play that will make any person who loves defensive football want to vomit.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 33 – Raiders 28