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Scouting the Matchup: Patriots hold edge in aerial assault

Both teams figure to have success through the air but the Patriots should have the edge against Oakland.


There's no doubt the Patriots could use a little more bang from their running game. Head coach Bill Belichick made that clear after New England was limited to 97 yards on 32 rushing attempts during its 21-13 victory over the Chargers. No back averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry in that game. The Raiders attempted to shore up a shaky run defense when they acquired former San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman after he was cut by the 49ers. Oakland has little experience at the middle linebacker position, an area that became even more vulnerable when rookie Marquel Lee suffered an ankle injury. That left undrafted rookies Nicholas Morrow and Xavier Woodson-Luster as the team's middle linebackers. Bowman has made 32 tackles in three games with the Raiders. Advantage: Raiders


Former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been the centerpiece of what has been an unspectacular Oakland rushing attack thus far this season. Oakland had the sixth-ranked running game in the NFL last season but ranks near the bottom of the league with an average of 87.6 yards per game this year. The Raiders haven't rushed for more than 88 yards in five of their last seven games, including their last three. Lynch leads the way with 323 yards and four touchdowns on 86 carries.  Lynch was suspended for Oakland's Week 8 loss to Buffalo after he made contact with an official during a 31-30 victory over Kansas City the previous week. The loss of Dont'a Hightower (injured reserve) plus Malcom Brown's ankle injury hasn't helped the Patriots in this area, and at times in Denver they allowed C.J. Anderson to pick up yards in chunks. But Oakland hasn't been as successful, and it looks like Brown is on the mend. Advantage: Patriots


It's been a tough season for the Raiders when it comes to pass defense. Oakland is the only team in NFL history to go nine games into a season without an interception. The coverage in the secondary has been poor, and the pass rush hasn't been anything like it was last year, when defensive end Khalil Mack finished the season with 11 sacks and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin had seven. Mack enters this game with 4.5 sacks this season. Irvin has 2.5. Throwing the football remains New England's strength, and the Patriots have been making good use of their running backs in their air attack. Tom Brady has five 300-yard passing games and has thrown for 19 touchdowns this season. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Brady has been intercepted only twice through nine games. The Raiders allow more than 70 percent of passes to be completed, and Brady could very well add to that number. Advantage: Patriots


The Raiders have all the necessary ingredients for an effective passing game, but that area of the offense got off to a slow start this season under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Dowling. Oakland failed to have more than 250 net yards passing in any of its first six games but has been much better of late. The Raiders passed for 417 yards in Week 7 against Kansas City, 313 yards in Week 8 against Buffalo and 295 yards in Week 9 against Miami. Quarterback David Carr has thrown 13 touchdown passes but has been intercepted seven times. He has talented targets in tight end Jared Cook (39 receptions for 499 yards), Amari Cooper (38-462) and Michael Crabtree (36-451). The Patriots entered Week 10 ranked 32nd in passing yards allowed per game and 31st in passing yards allowed per play. Advantage: Raiders


The Raiders may have the NFL's best punter in 29-year-old Marquette King, who is averaging 50.3 yards per punt. Placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio has also been solid. Tavecchio, who was brought in when Sebastian Janikowski suffered a back injury late in training camp, has connected on 12 of 14 field goal attempts - he's made three of his four attempts from beyond 50 yards - and has made all but one of his 23 PATs.  New England's Stephen Gostkowski has been good on kickoffs, allowing New England's coverage unit to do its thing, but has missed three of his seven kicks from between 40 and 49 yards. Overall, the Patriots have been better than the Raiders in the return game - Dion Lewis returned a kickoff for a TD against Denver last Sunday - although the always-dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson is averaging 30.8 yards per kickoff return. Advantage: Patriots


It's difficult to predict which team will have the advantage in a game being played in Mexico City, but as always the Patriots are taking no shortcuts in their preparation. New England remained in Colorado after its game with the Broncos and practiced at the Air Force Academy before departing for Mexico City. The Patriots did something similar in 2014, when they stayed in California between road games against Green Bay and San Diego. At least the Patriots seem to be taking a positive approach to the game in Mexico City, which isn't the case with Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. The Raiders will be the "home" team Sunday, and Del Rio called the loss of a true home game a "competitive disadvantage" for his team. Sounds like the excuses have already started. Advantage: Patriots

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