The New England Patriots will host the newly relocated Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday afternoon. Here’s what we’ll be watching for in this Week 3 matchup:
Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
The 1-1 Patriots enter the weekend as six-point home favorites over the Raiders, who sit at a surprising 2-0.
These franchises rarely meet, facing off just three times since 2010. The Patriots won all three, including a 33-8 waxing in 2017 in Mexico City. The Raiders have undergone a full-scale makeover since then, hiring Jon Gruden as their head coach in 2018, overhauling their roster and moving their operation from Oakland to Vegas.
Of the 22 Raiders players who started against the Patriots in 2017, just three still are with the franchise: quarterback Derek Carr, center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson.
New England is 1-1 against the spread this season, losing 35-30 as a four-point underdog to the Seattle Seahawks last week. Las Vegas is 2-0 ATS.
Quarterback Cam Newton nearly piloted the Patriots to a come-from-behind victory in another Pats-Seahawks thriller, leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and reaching the 1-yard line on a third.
Newton completed 30 of 44 passes, threw for 379 yards and a touchdown and ran for two scores — upping his league-lead-tying total to four — before being stopped short of the goal line on the game’s final play.
New England’s defense will be looking to rebound after surrendering five touchdown passes for just the second time in the Bill Belichick era and allowing the Seahawks to average 5.1 yards per carry on the ground.
The Raiders scored a signature win Monday night, upsetting the New Orleans Saints 34-24 in their first home game at new Allegiant Stadium.
Las Vegas has scored 34 points in each of its first two games but has had serious issues defensively, ranking 26th in total defense, 30th in yards allowed per play, 31st in sack rate, 30th in defensive DVOA and dead last in third-down defense. The Raiders also have been the NFL’s third-worst tackling team through two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Both teams will be missing some key pieces.
The Patriots will be without starting center David Andrews and top pass-catching back James White. Both were ruled out Friday, as was rookie linebacker Josh Uche.
Losing Andrews, who reportedly had surgery this week to repair a broken thumb on his snapping hand, leaves a large hole in New England’s offensive line. Hjalte Froholdt, a 2019 fourth-round draft pick who has yet to play an NFL snap on offense, looks like the top candidate to start in his place, though the Patriots could opt to elevate veteran James Ferentz from the practice squad or shift left guard Joe Thuney to center.
Regardless of who fills that void, expect Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to test Andrews’ replacement with interior blitzes and stunts.
White was away from the team and did not practice this week following the tragic death of his father in a car crash last Sunday. It’s unclear when he’ll return to the field.
Uche’s Patriots career is off to an inauspicious start. The second-round draft pick was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and now will have missed back-to-back games with different injuries (ankle in Week 2, foot this Week 3.) He was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice but was limited Thursday and did not practice Friday.
The Patriots also have five players listed as questionable for Sunday:
DT Adam Butler (shoulder)
S Kyle Dugger (ankle)
WR Julian Edelman (knee)
WR N’Keal Harry (ankle)
T Isaiah Wynn (calf)
Wynn was added to the injury report after being limited in practice Friday. The 2018 first-rounder has performed very well as Newton’s blindside protector this season but has a worrisome injury history.
Patriots rookie tight end Dalton Keene was a full participant in practice this week and could make his NFL debut Sunday after missing the first two games with a neck injury.
The visiting Raiders, meanwhile, have ruled out starting right tackle Trent Brown, top linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski and lightning-fast rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III, their top pick in this year’s draft (12th overall).
Las Vegas’ two leading offensive weapons — tight end Darren Waller and running back Josh Jacobs — both are listed as questionable, as are Brown’s top two backups, Sam Young and Denzelle Good. The Raiders also placed starting left guard Richie Incognito on injured reserve this week.
The Raiders’ run game should have an edge against New England’s front seven, but those losses up front will make life difficult for Jacobs, who ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing yards this season (181) but 40th in yards per carry (3.5).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
N’Keal Harry, Patriots wide receiver
Harry set career highs in every receiving category against Seattle (12 targets, eight catches, 72 yards) but didn’t truly stand out until the Patriots’ final possession, during which he tallied 12-, 13- and 17-yard receptions.
Still, it was an encouraging performance from the oft-criticized second-year pro. He’ll look to take another step forward against a Raiders defense that ranks 29th in passing yards allowed per game, 24th in yards allowed per pass attempt and 26th in pass defense DVOA.
The Las Vegas secondary also faces a difficult matchup against Edelman, who burned Jamal Adams multiple times on deep balls last week (and finished with a career-high 179 receiving yards).
Darren Waller, Raiders tight end
Stopping Waller — whom Belichick essentially called the best tight end in football earlier this week — will be priority No. 1 for the Patriots’ defense.
He’s easily the Raiders’ most dangerous receiving threat, entering Week 3 ranked second in the NFL in both receptions and targets behind Arizona Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Against the Saints, Waller caught 12 passes on 16 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown; no other Las Vegas player received more than three targets.
How will the Patriots cover Waller, who boasts 4.4 speed in a 6-foot-6, 255-pound body? Second-year defensive back Joejuan Williams is a prime candidate after locking down Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki in Week 1. Rookie safety Kyle Dugger and star cornerback Stephon Gilmore could factor into that equation, as well.
Gruden plans to move Waller around the formation in an effort to create favorable matchups for his top pass-catcher.
“It’s not like a, ‘This guy’s going to go take Waller and take him out of the game.’ It won’t be like that,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who compared Waller to former NFL receivers Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson. “It’ll be a team effort. … There’s going to be multiple guys that end up on him just because of where he aligns in their offense.”
Sony Michel, Patriots running back
Michel scored a touchdown and fared well in some short-yardage situations in Week 1 but he was a non-factor against Seattle, finishing with just 17 yards on nine carries.
The 2018 first-rounder is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season and continues to provide nothing in the passing game (zero catches, one target). Because of this, when the Patriots were trailing in the second half last Sunday, Michel hardly saw the field. He logged just 15 offensive snaps against the Seahawks. Rex Burkhead, a dual-threat back, played 51, many of which likely would have gone to White had he been active.
Damien Harris can return from injured reserve as early as next week. Michel is running out of time to prove he deserves to keep his role as New England’s lead back.
The Raiders’ run defense has been suspect this season (25th in yards allowed per carry), but they’ve also faced two of the NFL’s more talented backs in Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara.
Hunter Renfrow, Raiders wide receiver
If the Patriots are able to successfully limit Waller, Carr will need to rely on a young receiving corps that’s missing its big-play threat (Ruggs). That group is led by Renfrow, who ranked second on the team behind Waller in receptions last season as a fifth-round rookie.
Renfrow, who often was pegged as a future Patriot during his time at Clemson, is a great route-runner from the slot and a reliable target for Carr. He’s caught all five of his targets this season and moved the chains on four of them, including a key third-down conversion in the fourth quarter against New Orleans.