The scene shifts to Mexico City for one of the best matchups of the week
The Raiders and Patriots will probably play one of the best games on the NFL slate this week although the scene will be in Mexico City. Oakland's already played a game there, beating the Texans 27-20 back in 2016. Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio credited the atmosphere in Azteca Stadium with making it very unfriendly for Houston last season. The other off-the-field storyline was the aiming of laser pointers at Texans starting quarterback Brock Osweiler, who said it was a problem for him in the second quarter. The crowd will be a fascinating factor in this contest.
The Raiders have righted the ship a bit with wins in two of their last three after a four-game losing streak. Derek Carr and the offense has turned it over six times the last two games, but they are hoping the bye week will help them fix that. Marshawn Lynch hasn't exactly had the impact the team had in mind, although he had two touchdowns back on Nov. 5 against the Dolphins. The problem for Oakland comes on the defensive side of the ball where the Raiders are getting gashed through the air.
Ironically though, the poor defensive numbers look fantastic in comparison to their opponent. New England is giving up more than 280 passing yards and nearly 410 total yards per game. The team is currently on a five-game streak of holding opponents to under 20 points although only Atlanta could be considered as a team with an offensive pulse in that group and the Falcons aren't the same team when they play outdoors. The Patriots' offense has been fantastic as the game plan has shown more commitment to the run. They've averaged more than 30 carries per game over their last three. Tom Brady has been magical under center, especially when you consider he's 40 years old. They've won five in a row and are entering an interesting stretch of five of six games away from home.
New England vs. Oakland (Mexico City)
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 19 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Patriots -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Turnover battle
As mentioned above, Oakland has become a little careless with the ball as of late. In a potential shootout situation, the Raiders can't really afford to turn the ball over. Making this even worse is the fact that the defense isn't forcing things with just two takeaways over their last six games. The Patriots don't make a ton of mistakes with just five turnovers over their last seven contests. Tom Brady doesn't throw too many interceptions and the running backs know that any sort of fumble gets them in Bill Belichick's doghouse. Oakland has to win this turnover battle if they hope to win the game.
2. Brady vs. Carr
Derek Carr is smoking hot right now, throwing more than 1,000 yards over his team's last three games. He's attempted 131 passes during that span and that's probably too much, but when he's on, this team is going to succeed. If you noticed during losses to the Chargers, Broncos and Redskins, he threw for fewer than 200 yards and had four interceptions. The Patriots are vulnerable in the back end, especially to quality receivers like Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. New England's defensive strategy is generally try and take one thing away from its opponent, so I imagine the Patriots load up their coverage on the outside meaning tight end Jared Cook could become a big factor.
Brady leads the league in passing yards and that total should continue to go up against an awful Raiders secondary. He's averaging around 42 pass attempts per game giving him plenty of opportunities to move this offense down the field. Oakland's D is terrible against tight ends so I'm sure Rob Gronkowski will find the end zone and do some sort of touchdown dance in honor of the fans in the stadium. The only quarterbacks that Oakland has had success against as of late are Tyrod Taylor (now benched), Joe Flacco (who may not be elite) and Trevor Siemian (who definitely is not elite). Carr is going to have to do his part if the Raiders want to keep up.
3. Run, run, run
Rex Burkhead made the Patriots backfield even more convoluted after his performance in the win over Denver. He showed himself to be effective as both a runner and out wide as a receiver. Dion Lewis seems to be the primary back while James White saw less time as the pass-catching option. Oakland's defense has held three of its last four opponents under 100 rushing yards. We know that the Pats just use the run to keep teams honest much like the Raiders do. They don't run it too much themselves although they probably should with Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard as well as DeAndre Washington. I know that it's not in their nature, but the team should probably go to a ball control-type offense. I don't think they can win a shootout with New England and they are better off trying to grind out a victory.
I think that the scene shift to Mexico City will help the Raiders although I'm very intrigued by the Patriots practicing in Colorado Springs this week. The time in the increased elevation is sure to help them as they deal with the conditions in Azteca Stadium. One thing I know is that there will be plenty of points, but unfortunately I think most of them come from New England. The Patriots will make the stops when they have to and get the win on Sunday.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Raiders 26
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.