The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Oakland Raiders. While they were able to beat the Miami Dolphins in a primetime game beforehand, it wasn’t a particularly strong victory, and considering how they had struggled in previous weeks, outside of a Thursday night upset over the Kansas City Chiefs, a break was definitely needed.
Now the team will travel abroad to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to take on the New England Patriots on Sunday in an international series game. The Raiders overcame the Houston Texans in a similar game last season, but this is a much tougher task.
Raiders fans have always held a grudge against the Patriots for the infamous Tuck Rule Game during the 2002 playoffs, which indirectly kickstarted the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty that’s still around today. And outside of a win the following season, the Raiders haven’t won against the Patriots since.
Part of the reason for that is Brady himself. At 40 years old, he remains one of, if not the, best quarterbacks in the NFL, and his play this season has the Patriots offense atop the league rankings once again. Their running game has also been decent; Dion Lewis‘ performance has been especially under the radar.
Their receiving threats will cause the Raiders a lot of headaches as well. Notably, Brandin Cooks tore the secondary apart when he was with the New Orleans Saints last season, and he could potentially be covered by Sean Smith again. The Raiders’ notoriously poor play against tight ends will be relevant too with Rob Gronkowski lurking. However, with Marcus Cannon out due to an ankle injury, Khalil Mack will be battling a backup at right tackle.
Hope isn’t lost though. The Patriots defense is somehow worse than the Raiders. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of the offense, ranked last in the league. Derek Carr must take advantage of the opportunity at hand. While Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will get their usual targets, Jared Cook might be utilized as frequently as he was against the Dolphins, as the Patriots also struggle to cover tight ends.
The run game has been lacking this season, but going up against a depleted Patriots front-seven could help turn things around for the Raiders. They’ll probably go back to a rotation of Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
On the injury front, the Raiders are healthier than they’ve been as of late, but there may be one glaring absence on Sunday. Cornerback David Amerson is doubtful with a foot injury, which obviously won’t help the concerns with the secondary. Four others are questionable: right guard Gabe Jackson (ankle), linebacker Cory James (knee), right tackle Marshall Newhouse (hip/quad) and fullback Jamize Olawale (hamstring).
For the Patriots, center David Andrews (illness), wide receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder) and special teams ace Matthew Slater (hamstring) will all be out alongside Cannon. The former will be missed, as he’s ranked as the top center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Wideout Danny Amendola (knee), tight end Martellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring), cornerback Eric Rowe (groin) and defensive ends Malcolm Brown (ankle) and Cassius Marsh (shoulder) are listed as questionable.
This game has the potential to turn into an offensive shootout in the wake of two underperforming defenses playing on a neutral field. Upsetting the Patriots won’t be easy, but the Raiders have a shot, especially since they’re coming off a week of rest.