The fact that play, a little under a year ago, felt like rock bottom for the Patriots in the post-Tom Brady era, and somehow might not even be No's. 1 or 2 tells a lot about the state of this franchise. Now 1-4, New England heads back to Sin City for the first time since that disastrous loss to the Raiders, in a stretch where they've been outscored 72-3 in the last two weeks. Mac Jones borderline looks broken beyond repair, injuries have turned this defense from one of the NFL's best to a middling unit, and there's little reason for optimism just past the one-month mark of the season.
With that said, the Raiders aren't exactly a juggernaut, and their two wins this year, coming against Denver and Green Bay, probably should have been losses. Right now, Josh McDaniels' unit can't run the ball and turn over the ball at a league-high rate, while also boasting one of the worst man-to-man coverage units in football. So, I feel pretty confident saying that this won't be an offensive showcase tomorrow afternoon.
Date: Sunday, October 15
Start Time: 4:05 EST
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Stadium: Allegiant Stadium
TV Info: CBS (Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on the call) (Jim Nantz deserves better than this)
Patriots Uniform Info: White Tops, Blue Bottoms
Players Already Ruled Out Before Sunday
Las Vegas Raiders: Justin Herron (OT), Nate Hobbs (CB)
New England Patriots: Cole Strange (IOL), Juju Smith-Schuster (WR), Pop Douglas (WR), Cody Davis (ST), Riley Reiff (IOL/OT), Tyrone Wheatly Jr. (OT)
Las Vegas Raiders
On either side of the ball for the Raiders, the first name you should be thinking of is Maxx Crosby. He doesn't get the overall recognition that guys like Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa, and T.J. Watt get, but he's absolutely on those guys' level. The biggest reason is that he never comes off the field. He's played in over 85 percent of the Raiders defensive snaps in 23 straight games and at least 90 percent in his last 22. For a star edge rusher to be on the field that much and still be an every-play/every-down game wrecker is unreal. Crosby combines elite off-the-line burst and a relentless motor, paired with the fact you have to send extra attention his way, he's one of the 10 best guys in the league of the edge at the worst. Truly an elite talent.
With that said, there's not a whole lot else that this Raiders defense offers. You have guys like Tyree Wilson, Robert Spillane, Tre'von Moehrig, and Patriots legend Adam Butler who jump out on the depth chart, but this has been an overall streaky unit through five games. They're statistically one of the worst if not the worst, man-to-man pass defenses in the sport while also allowing over 100 rushing yards in four straight games. Not helping out matters is that Vegas will be without one of their key pieces in the secondary, cornerback Nate Hobbs. Last week, fourth-year veteran Tyler Hall filled in for Hobbs against the Packers, and PFF had him down as the Raiders' second-best player on their grading system.
On Monday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers found a good level of success pounding the rock with AJ Dillion, and I think the Patriots, for all their faults up front, should be doing most of the same. The Packers' offensive line isn't in the best shape either, and Dillion still managed about four yards per. Also, there will be stuff available underneath, so Mac Jones cannot force things when he doesn't have to.
It's hard for the Raiders to shake the Patriots-[Insert whatever region of the country a Patriots adjacent coaching staff resides here] allegations with the amount of former Pats on this offense, but things haven't gone great through five games. Jimmy Garoppolo leads the league in interceptions with seven, despite missing a game. Even worse, the Raiders running game has been non-existent through five weeks. Josh Jacobs has seen his yards per carry drop by a full two yards from 2022 to 2023, and 50 fewer yards per game despite only getting four fewer carries per. Not the season the league's leading rusher a year ago was hoping for.
Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston put up some numbers that explain the lack of productivity out of Jacobs earlier today. He's seeing a much higher-than-average rate of eight-man boxes, and unsurprisingly, he hasn't been able to overcome that. In fairness, not many backs can, but that also ties back into Jimmy G. Teams are willing to give him 1-on-1 looks when his top two options are Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers because even then, they're willing to take their chances. Although they skated by with wins against the Packers and Broncos, they haven't played winning football all year on offense so far, and I wouldn't be shocked if that trend continues on Sunday.
Onto Meyers real quick since he's topical. Earlier this week, Bill Belichick claimed that resigning Meyers was a "Priority". While that's not lying under oath, it's the closest Belichick can get under the law. They signed Juju Smith-Shuster to an identical contract to what Meyers got, but with a built-in out after year two when Meyers has a built-in out after year one. Meyers' camp called this out as a lie the second Belichick's presser ended, and I have no reason not to believe them. By all accounts, Meyers is underpaid by the Raiders, and if that was his best offer, the Patriots must have seriously lowballed him.
New England Patriots
While no one has been ruled out defensively, you have several players nursing injuries coming into Sunday. Kyle Dugger, Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, and Josh Uche are your key names. Additionally, while Jack Jones should hopefully return soon, it won't be this week, so that'll leave J.C. Jackson on Adams duty, then a mix of everyone else on Meyers out wide. The best indicator of how things will go tomorrow is not stopping the run, but rather if the Patriots can get pressure. The only team with at least five games played to allow less pressure than the Raiders are the Dolphins, whom the Patriots never really got it going against off the edge.
Assuming the Patriots go the eight-man box route, watch out to see if the Raiders try to hit Devante Adams on some kind of post or go route on the outside. Josh McDaniels dialed that up earlier this year against the Steelers and last year in Arrowhead against the Chiefs, walking away with touchdowns twice on 4th&Short plays. Jackson has to be ready for that, no matter what. Also, the Raiders audible into Hoss Juke is the exact same as it was when McDaniels was calling plays in New England, "Jordan". Just know that's coming if you hear Jimmy G call that out, I'm sure the Patriots will be.
May as well start with the injuries on offense because there's a lot, No Juju, Pop Douglass, Riley Reiff, or Cole Strange this weekend, coming off the worst collective game by the offensive line and wide receivers all year. And while Mike Onwenu is likely good to go, he's been dealing with that ankle injury that's kept him on the injury report for some time now. Should he go down, that's your nightmare scenario upfront. The only good news with injuries on offense is that Tyquan Thornton could be back as soon as tomorrow. His return from IR clock started earlier this week, and he's been limited in practice all week. For a group that can't separate on the outside, his speed will be a welcome addition to this Patriots offense.
Onto Mac Jones now, who's coming off one of his three worst starts in the NFL last week against New Orleans. Brett Kollmann recently dropped a Mac Jones breakdown that's well worth the watch, but I think at a base level, most should understand the issues of this offense by now. Mac Jones isn't being smart with the ball, his offensive line hasn't been good enough, and his pass catchers can't separate. But for Mac Jones, the bottom line is this: He's at the controls of an offense that's scored six points in their last 10 quarters of play, he's thrown for an average of 153.6 passing yards these last three weeks, and he's been responsible for 21 defensive points and six turnovers over the previous two. His leash should be short this week, but the question is, who's Plan B?
How about Malik Cunningham? On Friday, the Athletic's Jeff Howe reported that he is indeed a part of the plan this weekend against the Raiders, and he'd be elevated to the active roster about 24 hours later. Not only that, but this is a three-year deal instead of a practice squad elevation. To be honest, I'm shocked it took this long for it to happen. Despite saying, "I hate the idea of Taysom Hill" on these very airways just one week ago, the difference between the two is Cunningham most likely is going to be used sporadically, and he's undeniably more explosive with the ball in his hands than Hill is. If I had to guess, you'll most likely see Cunningham under center in those 3rd&Short/4th&Short situations should Belichick/B.O'B deem it appropriate. But could we see him outright relieve Mac Jones at some point tomorrow? I wouldn't rule that out. We've heard frequently about the hard work he's put in, now it's time to see if it can translate on Sundays.
Points Spread: LV -2.5 (-120) | NE +2.5 (-102)
Moneyline: LV (-158) | NE (+134)
Over/Under: O 41.5 (-105) | U 41.5 (-115)
Lines via FanDuel as of Saturday, October 14
Going to stick with what worked last week. Fade the Patriots and go with the Under. Their offensive line isn't in good enough shape to deal with Maxx Crosby, or even Tyree Wilson for that matter, and the Raiders' offense is pretty similar in terms of the caliber of players and statistics. I wouldn't expect much scoring in any event.
As far as how the Patriots implement Malik Cunningham into the game plan, I need to physically see it first. This offense still has too many issues, and the defense is coming off a very uninspiring performance, and are starting to (justifiably) get upset with the offensive production. With that said, I think the Raiders win this one, and it's another double-digit point loss for the Patriots.
Final Score: Las Vegas Raiders 24, New England Patriots 10
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