If there is any team in the NFL against which you can measure your ability, it is the New England Patriots. This is what we call a barometer game to see how we match up against one of the best-coached teams in the league. Bill Belichick is clearly a top-five coach of all-time, so meeting up with him gives us a vivid idea of where the Las Vegas Raiders are as contenders. Although this Patriots team isn’t headlined by Tom Brady, Belichick is out to make the case for his coaching being the reason for all of their success.
To start the season, Las Vegas has played the rebuilding Panthers, and the perennially-good Saints. Similarly, the Patriots faced a struggling team in the Dolphins, and a playoff contender in the Seahawks. I would say both teams have gone down comparable paths to begin their year, and I would imagine this game has some low-key sizzle to it, even without “Tom Terrific.”
Certainly, there are some questions around this game as far as who will be available.
After the horrific incident involving the parents of James White, he was my first thought and has been ruled out for the game. The Patriots’ backfield will be headlined, once again, by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead — but that isn’t really the important news; we hope James White can get through this and pray for his family during such a tragic time. Staying on the topic of injuries, Las Vegas’ Henry Ruggs will miss his first game this year with nagging knee and hamstring injuries. The Raiders had already lost Tyrell Williams for the season, and was hoping to see Ruggs step into a prominent role. A few other notable Raiders injuries include Richie Incognito, who will be out until at least Week 7 with an Achilles issue that will hinder protection as well as the rush offense. Trent Brown will miss this week as well, and the backup tackle is questionable, so we could see a game plan that tries to hide the third-stringer. The last major injury for this game is David Andrews, who is considered a leader for the Patriots and somebody that can set the tone in the trenches.
With all that being said, there are a few key questionable players as well including: Darren Waller, N’Keal Harry, Julian Edleman, and Josh Jacobs. Waller and Jacobs are clearly the focal points of the Raiders offense, and without them, it will be a struggle for Derek Carr, yet also brings opportunity to Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards. On the other side, Julian Edelman has been the man that stirs the drink for New England and has always been a superb security blanket for whomever, but has also ALWAYS been banged up.
As we all know, Bill Belichick likes to take away what you do best. Most coaches try to do this, but he seems like the one guy that gets the job done, regardless of your game plan. My guess would be that he tries to limit Josh Jacobs if he plays, but Derek Carr has shown he is ready to take that next step and lead this team to a playoff spot. Although I have been ecstatic to see Ruggs get going, I really enjoyed the flash from Nelson Agholor last week, and he made his one catch look promising. I would expect the Patriots to try and ground-and-pound with Cam Newton and Sony Michel, considering the Raiders rush defense through two games hasn’t been great.
The Raiders secondary has played well, but we may not get tested until a true pass-dominant team plays us. The idea of exploiting injuries in this game sounds good, but there are so many across the board, that it might just come down to a field goal or so, and a few penalties or even special teams.
I recall the spread for this game being around -6.5 for the Pats, and that could be a bit much, but it might just be based off pedigree at this point, which is fair.
I would say it will be around there, and my prediction for this game will be 24-20, New England.
Although this New England team has a new look and a new face — and basically, a new everything — the coach is there, and he has control and an identity for this team. However, there will be no surprise from me if the Raiders pull this out; one of the more interesting games this week.
(Featured Image Credit: Raiders.com)