Just win, Baby.
With only three weeks left in the NFL regular season, the Patriots will stay on the west coast with their playoff hopes on the line. And while the Raiders would initially look like an easy win, they have shown flashes this season (look at defeats of Jets and Broncos for proof), and will be looking to play spoiler for the Patriots.
Really, this is a playoff game. If the Pats lose, their chances at making the playoffs will be all but eliminated. This, in a way, is the Patriots’ second playoff game, out of a possible total of eight.
Key Injuries – Patriots
Tedy Bruschi – Out
Pierre Woods – Out (UPDATE: Placed on Injured Reserve)
James Sanders – Doubtful
Vince Redd – Questionable
Ellis Hobbs – Questionable
Ty Warren – Questionable
Kelley Washington – Questionable
Analysis: This week, the Patriots look pretty banged up. Tedy Bruschi was sent home with a left knee injury that isn’t too serious, but may very well end his season. Pierre Woods was placed on injured reserve. He was slated to start at the outside linebacker position, which leaves Gary Guyton and Rosevelt Colvin the only healthy options at that spot, with Vince Redd also a possibility to see time there. With James Sanders likely out, look for Antwain Spann to start, with cornerback Lewis Sanders rotating in. Ellis Hobbs, Ty Warren, and Kelley Washington are all likely game-time decisions Sunday. Hobbs would be a major loss for the Pats. He has started all season, and played very well as the #1 corner. If Hobbs is out, Deltha O’Neal will likely be re-inserted into the starting lineup. Ty Warren looks closer to playing, but if he misses the game, look for Le Kevin Smith and Mike Wright to rotate in at the left defensive end position. Both played well last week, but Warren is one of the best players on the defense, so it will still be a tough spot to replace.
Key Injuries – Raiders
Jake Grove – Probable
Jamarcus Russell – Probable
Ricky Brown – Doubtful
Analysis: The Raiders look pretty healthy this week. Linebacker Ricky Brown has been out for a while, so it looks like he will miss yet another game. Jamarcus Russell will be active, but it will be interesting to see if his injury nags him during the game. Jake Grove hasn’t played in a while, but will likely be active.
Keys to the Game – Patriots
Jump Ahead Early – Last week, the Patriots found themselves in a big deficit early against the Seahawks. With the loud crowd, it will be important that the Patriots get off to a quick start and take control of the game, not letting the Raiders get any hope.
Stuff the Run – The Raiders have been dreadful in the passing game, and will likely try and attack the Patriots through the ground with Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, and Michael Bush (my 2007 draft binky). If the Patriots can stop the Raiders’ ground attack, that may make the Raiders one dimensional, and the secondary will get their channces.
Look Deep – The Patriots have a very good secondary, and play a lot of man to man. However, their best corner, Nnamdi Asomugha likely won’t be covering Randy Moss, which may give Moss osme opportunities down field.
Players to Watch – Patriots
Matt Cassel, QB, #16 – It will be interesting to watch how Cassel repsonds to the passing of his father. If he’s rattled, or if he finds motivation. Here of course, at PatriotsBlog.net, we wish Matt Cassel and his family the best at this time.
Rosevelt Colvin, OLB, #95 – Will likely either start, or get very significant playing time. With another week to practice, will he be back to his old form? The Patriots will rely on him for pass rush.
Le Kevin Smith, DE, #90 – When Vince Wilfork went down last week, Mike Wright shifted to nose tackle, while Le Kevin Smith moved in at defensive end. He quietly had a very good game, recording three tackles, as well as altering several plays. With Warren and Wilfork still struggling with injuries, Smith may get another chance.
Players to Watch – Raiders
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, #21 – Big, strong, physical, fast, smart – Nnamdi Asomugha has, in my mind, established himself as the best cornerback in the NFL. Look to see if the Raiders move Asomugha over from his regular side to cover Randy Moss.
Johnnie Lee Higgins, WR/KR, #15 – An excellent punt and kick returner, Higgins will be someone to watch in not only special teams, but on offense, where he has seen a bigger role as of late.
Justin Fargas, RB, #25 – The under-utilized runner for the Oakland Raiders, Fargas will be a key player in the Raiders’ offensive game plan this week.
Prediction: Patriots 30 Raiders 17
I think the Patriots will come out strong in this one, taking control early by spreading the ball out on offense. The Patriots will move one step closer to the playoffs in this one.