Preparations wound down Friday as the Patriots (5-4) and the Raiders (5-4) ready for Sunday's battle in Oakland.
The two teams enter the game on the winning track after struggling in stretches of the early season. The Raiders are coming off a 34-10 domination of the Broncos, while the Patriots came back to beat the Bears 33-30 last week. Both teams have weathered four-game losing streaks this season and will look to solidify both division and playoff standing with a win on Sunday.
Oakland enters the game with the top-ranked NFL offense averaging 403.7 yards and 28.9 points a game. The unit is led by veteran phenomenons such as quarterback Rich Gannon, wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown and running back Charlie Garner. Rice is having a rejuvenated season and with 60 catches for 781 yards and five touchdowns is on pace to have his best season since the mid '90s.
But Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick pointed out this week that the Raiders have a talented offensive unit from top to bottom.
"As far as the Raiders go, it was a real impressive performance [last] Monday night against Denver," Belichick said. "I don't know how a team could play much better than the way they played or the way Gannon played. There are a lot of great skilled players and a very big offensive line. So offensively they are a very efficient unit. Garner is averaging six yards a carry. It seems like everybody has got over 50 catches already and we are only halfway through the season. They've got a lot of juice, a lot of firepower and, again, a big offensive line that can keep it going."
Gannon is having one of his best seasons in his 15th year in the league. The former Patriots draft pick has completed 266-of-380 passes for 2,898 yards and 19 touchdowns. He currently leads the NFL in attempts, completions and yards and is second in completion percentage and touchdowns. He has also thrown for more than 300 yards in seven of nine games this season, with a high of 403 in Week 2 against the Steelers. His versatile play and quick decision making is a major key to the Raiders patiently explosive offense.
"Defensively, it's pretty much a traditional Raiders defense'" Belichick said. "They're big up front. They've got some very experienced and savvy players. Guys like [Bill] Romanowski, Woodson, [Sam] Adams, Trace Armstrong, you can just go right down the line. Rod Woodson that is, they've got two Woodsons in the secondary. It's a very experienced group and a lot of young talented players. They are tough. They are physical, a lot of tight coverage and they really force you to do a good job both blocking the big guys up front and throwing into some close quarters. They have already scored six touchdowns this year on defense and special teams, three interceptions return, a couple of punt returns and a kickoff return. So they are also getting some bonus points from those type of units. There are just an all around solid club."
While the hype surrounding the game is more for the fans than organizations themselves it does bring excitement to the game. Both teams have a lot to prove, but in the end the most important thing is always to come away with a win. The Raiders may want to show the world that they are a better team than the Patriots, but the bottom line is still winning.
The Patriots placed cornerback Ben Kelly on Injured Reserve on Thursday with an ankle injury. Guard Joe Andruzzi (knee) and safety Victor Green (leg), listed as Questionable, both practiced on Friday. Patrick Pass (shoulder), was downgraded to Questionable on the injury report late Friday afternoon.
The Kelly move leaves the Patriots with one open spot on the 53-man roster. The spot may potentially be filled by rookie running back Antwoine Womack who is currently on the Non-Football Injury list, but has been practicing with the team for the past two weeks. Next week, 21 days from Womack's first practice, the team must either put him on the roster, place him on injured reserve or release him.
Asked if Womack would fill the roster spot, Belichick said that it was unlikely at this time.
"I would say probably not this week," Belichick said on Friday. "We are going to have to make a decision on Womack next week, but I would say probably not this week."