What to watch for in Patriots-Raiders in Mexico

If you thought you were done watching NFL football being played outside the United States in 2017, boy, do we have a surprise for you.

The league heads south of the border Sunday and is taking two of its better teams with it to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico. The reigning champion New England Patriots will take on the Oakland Raiders as part of the NFL's annual Mexico Game.

We're all geared up for this showdown, and we have what you need to watch for in this contest.

  1. Opportunistic Raiders. After a slow start for the Raiders and a fast beginning for the Kansas City Chiefs, the latter's three losses have opened the window slightly for Oakland to get back into contention for the AFC West crown. The Raiders appeared to start to figure things out in a close win over the Dolphins before their bye week, but have had a week off to rest, relax and perhaps lose some of that newly gained steam.

Their biggest key: Keep the train rolling from Miami, through Mexico City and into the future. That will require a solid performance Sunday against what's looking to be the best team in the AFC right now. Oakland has had plenty of examples of how New England can find success after the Patriots dominated the Denver Broncos last week. They'd be wise to use it to their advantage.

  1. Tom Brady vs. Raiders defense. Brady is the league's leading passer and is facing the NFL's 22nd-ranked pass defense. In his last three games, he's thrown for 249, 333 and 266 yards. New England won all three. Oakland doesn't present the greatest challenge in the secondary, but edge-rushing terror Khalil Mack constantly lurks with the potential to disrupt things. Expect quick completions to New England's stable of backs and tight ends to neutralize the rush and keep the Patriots' offense moving right along.

What's wild about this point is we could easily swap quarterbacks and defenses and make it another focal point. As a matter of fact ...

  1. Derek Carr vs. Patriots' league-worst pass defense. The numbers are a bit deceiving as of late -- in their last three games, the Patriots' defense has allowed 221, 212 and 233 yards passing -- but New England remains the league's worst pass defense, at least statistically. No better time than the present for Carr and the Raiders' offense to string together a couple of good performances.

Carr completed 21 of 30 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown in a 27-24 win over Miami. Since then, Oakland has had a week to rest and regroup. Should they want to make a late-season push for the postseason, it's important that they don't suffer a setback Sunday.

  1. Road adjustment. No matter what the players and coaches will tell reporters, Mexico City is far from a usual NFL environment. How the two teams adjust to the unfamiliar environment might play a bigger part in the contest than usual. Then again, we're talking about a Bill Belichick team and a Raiders squad that has more experience in Mexico than most.
  1. The scene. The Raiders tend to have somewhat of a home-field advantage in these games, having a history of heading south for an occasional regular season game. Will the fans turn out again in support of the Silver and Black? Or will New England's five rings sway some fans to their side? Either way, the biggest question remains attendance. The games in London were a success, and this contest usually is as well as the league continues to grow the game beyond the borders of the United States. Rob Gronkowski did his part, reiterating his Spanish catchphrase: "Yo soy fiesta."
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