After dispatching the Cardinals on Monday Night Football, the Patriots traveled about two hours southeast to their temporary new home at the University of Arizona, courtesy of former Patriots quarterbacks’ coach/University of Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch. From there, they will then make a 90-minute flight to Las Vegas for a meetup with another former Patriots assistant turned head coach, Josh McDaniels, and the Las Vegas Raiders.
Currently in disarray at 5-8, the NFL’s renegade franchise is well on its way to a significant dropoff from last season despite some big moves in the offseason. Those ranged from bringing in Davante Adams from the Packers for (effectively) the right to draft Quay Walker and Christian Watson. While additionally bringing in several former Patriots players, most notably Chandler Jones. The Raiders also parted ways with several first-round selections from the Jon Gruden/Mike Mayock regime, leaving open the possibility that none of their six first-rounders since 2019 won’t be with the team next year. But with Belichick's disciples/former players having a good run against him in recent years, how much danger, if any will the Patriots find themselves in on Sunday?
Date: Sunday, December 18th
Start Time: 4:05 EST
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Stadium: Allegiant Stadium
TV Info: FOX (Kenny Albert and Johnathan Vilma on the call)
Uniform Info: White Jerseys, Blue Pants
Las Vegas Raiders
Nothing about this collective Raiders defense jumps out as worthwhile statistically, but they undoubtedly have a few impact guys. None perhaps more so than Maxx Crosby, who has 11.5 sacks on the year after signing a four-year 94-million-dollar extension in mid-March. He presents the unique problem of being on the field all game, playing at least 90 percent of the available snaps all season, while still being an absolute game wrecker on every snap. The only team that has held him without a single pressure all season was the New Orleans Saints in a Week 8 blowout loss. Crosby has also racked up 19 tackles for loss and has additionally caused three fumbles this season as well.
Flanking Crosby on the opposite end of the line is one-time Patriot Chandler Jones, who had a brutal start to the season. He had just 10 pressures and a half sack through 11 games, much to the ire of Raider Nation after signing a three-year 51-million-dollar deal in the offseason. On a good note, things have taken a turn for the better these last two weeks, racking up seven pressures and four sacks these last two games. Not to mention a forced fumble and recovery last Thursday night against the Rams.
Much like the Vikings three weeks ago, the Raiders' pass defense is comfortably in the bottom five of the NFL. Further complicating things for Vegas is that starting corner Rock Ya-Sin has already been ruled out for the second week in a row. That leaves the Raiders in a spot with Nate Hobbs and undrafted rookie free agent Sam Webb starting on the outside once again. Both have allowed passer ratings above 100 when targeted on the year, as well as over 10 yards per completion allowed.
It’s unclear at this point whether Derek Carr will be a Raider beyond this year, but he’s on pace for one of his worst seasons with the team, wonder why that is.
Another reason is an increased focus on the run game, reflected in the nearly 50 yards-a-game drop-off for Carr in the passing game from 2021. Josh Jacobs, the Raiders bell-cow back, is going to get himself a nice payday this offseason as well. The Alabama product is currently at 1402 yards and 11 touchdowns and has an outside shot to hit 2000 yards rushing on the season. Performances like his 229-yard outing in Seattle would help with that. As a side note with Jacobs, the Raiders team captains collectively went to McDaniels and effectively demanded that Jacobs joined them. So, if you want to know how the core guys in that locker room feel about him, there you go.
Devante Adams, to no surprise, hasn’t skipped a beat in his first season away from Green Bay. After he had a great week against the Patriots in joint practices to end the preseason, he has put up seven games of over 100 yards, including an eight catch 177-yard two touchdown masterclass against the Denver Broncos. That new contract Dave Zeigler dished to him is looking good so far with that said.
Adams also has a great cast of characters around him in his new home. Two of them are currently in doubt to play this weekend with injuries. First of which is one of the best tight ends in the game, Darren Waller. Eligible to come off IR this weekend, McDaniels didn’t give a clear answer on if he would make his first start since Week 5. Same case for slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, who has been out since Week 9 with an oblique injury. Both are excellent compliments for Adams, but they have all played together just three times this season, and the Raiders lost all three of those contests.
Moving onto the offensive line, based on Jacobs’ success this season along with allowing only 23 sacks (fifth fewest in the NFL), they’ve been excellent in 2022. Give a bit of credit to former Patriots offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, doing some great work with a relatively young group. This weekend they will be without guard Alex Bars, who suffered a knee injury early last week.
New England Patriots
Once again, Jalen Mills has already been ruled out with his groin injury, marking the third consecutive game he will miss. There is some good news on the back end for the Patriots, with Jack Jones returning to practice on Friday, as well as the fact that Devin McCourty is not on the injury report after leaving the Cardinals game early. Especially if Renfrow and Waller are good to go, the Patriots are going to need all hands on deck. As for how they go against Adams, that’s hard to say. Jack Jones appeared to be the guy last week on Hopkins before he went down, then it turned into a rotation, with Marcus Jones notably looking very solid against the All-Pro all things considered. Ultimately, it wouldn’t shock me if they just try to do their best with Adams and make it a point to focus on the other pass catchers.
Some exponentially better news for the Patriots is that Christian Barmore is back and ready to go for this weekend. With Josh Jacobs and Joe Mixon on deck, that is a game-changer to get him in the mix. James Conner ended up doing a bit of damage on Monday, averaging north of 5.5 yards a run, and those two guys are a step above. Barmore is also going to be a big help in the pass rush department, seeing as teams were making it a point to double him early and often at the beginning of the season. Now imagine Barmore with one or two of Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale, Davon Godchaux, or Lawrence Guy up the middle, with Matt Judon and a fully broken-out Josh Uche on the outside. That has some scary potential
Raekwon McMillian and Jahlani Tavai both made some big contributions as of late, especially on Monday night. Said it in the recap, but that Tavai swat completely changed that game, but McMillian dished out the winning blow with his fumble recovery score. Don’t forget about Ja’Whaun Bentley either, who’s quietly about to put up back-to-back 100 tackle seasons at the pace he is on.
Despite putting up 20 points on offense, the Patriots left a lot to be desired on offense both from a play-calling (shocker) and execution standpoint. Losing DeVante Parker and Rhamondre Stevenson hurt, as well as not having Jakobi Meyers to begin with. I feel confident in saying however that what the Patriots did offensively wouldn’t have been good enough to beat the Cardinals had Kyler Murray not torn his ACL three plays in. 3-of-11 on third down, a breakdown in pass protection leading to a bad pick, as well as a botched snap almost costing them three points at the end of the first half. At the end of the day though, they were able to do enough in this one, with an assist to rookie running backs Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong.
On the injury front, Parker has already been ruled out with a concussion, but Meyers and Stevenson both returned to practice on Friday in a limited fashion. Would imagine Stevenson tries to go no matter what seeing as he is a Vegas native though. With that in mind, Mac Jones made it a point to try and find Nelson Agholor early and often in this one, with mixed results. He also looked Tyquan Thornton’s way five times, and he caught four targets, picking up two, almost three, first downs. Getting him further involved, especially in opposition territory, is a good objective this week. When he's gotten chances, Thornton has shown he can be a reliable guy, even with some room for improvement.
Upfront, this is going to be another big test for the Patriots offensive line, although they held up very well against the Cardinals' tough interior. Zach Allen’s second-quarter sack was the only time Mac Jones hit the deck for a loss. Additionally, the pick that Jones threw to Isaiah Simmons was on Hunter Henry, although in his defense he was on an island up against rookie Cameron Thomas. Priority one, really for the entire game, is to ensure that Maxx Crosby doesn’t take things over, especially right out of the gate.
Onto McCorkle, he’s on a solid run as of late, but one thing still jumps out at this juncture, the lack of play-action passing. In 10 games this season, he’s gotten just 40 play-action passes in, compared to Bailey Zappe getting 20 in only four games. To further the point, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen both have 83 play-action passes this season in 13 games. While other quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes have 63, Tom Brady 75, and Lamar Jackson 74 (12 games). Not saying Jones is any of those guys, but if you look around the league, they have more willingness to go to the run fake. On the topic, an outlier here is Joe Burrow, who only has 45 play-action passes this season, but the Bengals are more than just fine at this stage.
Points Spread: NE +1.5 (-110) | LV -1.5 (-110)
Moneyline: NE (+102) | LV (-120)
Over/Under: O 44.5 (-110) | U 44.5 (-110)
After opening as a Pick ‘Em at some books, this line has been in constant flux at most books but has settled at Raiders -1/-1.5 in most spots as of Friday evening. This is the Raiders' sixth home game of the year, and they have been favored in all of them, yielding a 3-2 ATS record. The two losses were the blown game in Week 2 against the Cardinals, and the Colts with Jeff Saturday five days on the job. No team has also blown more double-digit leads than this Raiders team, and that’s speaking in terms of NFL history. That alone doesn’t inspire much confidence betting-wise or in reality.
The Patriots baring any line movement will be a road dog for the fifth time this year, batting .500 going in. Wouldn’t say I’d have much more confidence in them compared to the Raiders here, but they are also 3-3 ATS coming off a win, compared to Vegas being 3-4 coming off a loss. Especially if Waller and Renfrow are no-go’s, I’d go Patriots no matter if they become a favorite or not, while also leaning over.
Another road game and another must-win spot, and I think the Patriots get the job done. The Raiders under McDaniels keep finding new and unique ways to snag defeat from the jaws of victory. While I think he’ll take some minor tactical wins over Bill Belichick in this game, and potentially have him beat in the early going, they’ll find a way to fall to 5-9.
Final Score: New England Patriots 27, Las Vegas Raiders 14