The Oakland Raiders are coming off a much-needed bye week but will travel to Mexico City for a “home” game against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
It’s a tough task for a Raiders team that is a disappointing 4-5 for the season after a struggling offense has stalled them while injuries on the defensive side of the ball has frustrated Ken Norton, Jr. and head coach Jack Del Rio. And now the Raiders defense will go up against the NFL’s top offense, averaging over 409 yards per game.
The Raiders have just the 26th-ranked defense in the league, allowing 324 yards per game. Norton and his defense need to have their best game of the season against future Hall of Famer Brady and a Patriots offense that is recording 301 passing yards a game. Brady leads the league in completions (231), attempts (343) and passing yards (2,807). He also ranks second with 19 touchdowns and a passer rating of 108.3.
It’s not a surprise that athletic tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to be Brady’s top target, recording a team-high five touchdowns and 38 receptions for 583 yards. The Patriots traded for speedy wideout Brandin Cooks in the offseason, who has added to Brady’s arsenal. Cooks leads the team with 637 yards, adding three touchdowns. The Raiders are familiar with Cooks, going up against him and the Saints in week one of last year when Cooks had six receptions for 148 yards, including a 98-yard touchdown.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots offense once again feature a running back by committee. Mike Gillislee leads the team with 96 carries for 355 yards and four touchdowns, but the team also features Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead. The Patriots are averaging just 107 yards per game on the ground, but the Raiders must also look out for then as pass catchers out of the backfield.
Raiders standout pass rusher Khalil Mack and the Raiders defense must get into the backfield and disrupt Brady and the passing game to give the Raiders a better chance at coming out victorious. Recording their first interception and any other turnovers would also help.
Derek Carr and the Raiders offense have struggled to find any sort of consistency on the season, averaging just 324 yards per game. Luckily for Carr, the Patriots defense has been surprisingly bad this season, ranking dead last in the NFL while allowing 408 yards per game. Included in that is allowing over 287 yards in the air, meaning it could be a big day for Amari Cooper and the Raiders wide receivers.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing must also get the Raiders rushing game going again. The Raiders added Marshawn Lynch in the offseason but are averaging just 87 yards per game on the ground. Lynch and his young backups should be able to find some running holes against a Patriots defense that is without Dont’a Hightower and allowing 121 yards per game. Getting Lynch going will also open up the play-action plays, should Downing call them.
The matchup will again be a war of attrition as both teams will have to adjust to the altitude. Mexico City sits at 7,382 feet above sea level, over 2,000 feet higher than the the highest field in the NFL. Just like last year, Del Rio and the coaching staff will give his team just 24 hours to acclimate to the altitude change.
The Raiders will return home to host the Denver Broncos next week.