With essentially the season on the line, the Oakland Raiders will need to play their best game of the season on Sunday to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. Why the urgency? Because the team is 4-5 and they will be playing the 7-2 New England Patriots down in Mexico City in Week 11.
For Oakland to realistically have a shot at making the AFC playoffs, the Raiders will need to go at least 5-2 in their final seven games. Dropping the first one after the bye is exactly what head coach Jack Del Rio doesn’t want to have happen to his team. New England is the favorite in this neutral-site game. It will be interesting to see how this one shakes out.
While New England is the favorite to come out of the AFC, the Patriots haven’t exactly played great defense this season. The Patriots haven’t been able to offset Rob Ninkovich‘s retirement and especially Dont’a Hightower‘s season-ending injury.
In short, the Patriots are vulnerable in the front-seven, but can the Raiders exploit that? Here are the five man-on-man matchups you will want to pay close attention to when the Raiders take on the Patriots down in Estadio Azteca on Sunday afternoon at 1:25 p.m. PT, 4:25 p.m. ET.
Oakland’s best offensive player in the first half of the season has easily been center Rodney Hudson. If Oakland is going to send anybody from the offense to the Pro Bowl, it would be Hudson. He has been dominant in pass protection and has adjust well to the new running scheme up front.
Though Alan Branch was certainly a handful last year for the 2016 Patriots, the 2017 version of Branch leaves a lot to be desired. Given that Ninkovich retired from football before training camp, it has put more pressure on Branch to be the man in the middle of the Patriots defensive line. He just hasn’t been as impactful as New England would have hoped he’d be.
As for Hudson, he will need to play a sound game for the Raiders to have a shot at winning in Mexico City. It starts with being the focal point of the Raiders’ commitment to the run. If the Raiders need to have quarterback Derek Carr throw the ball 50 times in this one, there is no hope for an Oakland victory.
That being said, if Hudson can win in the trenches in both run blocking and pass pro, then the Raiders will be able to at least keep pace with the high-octane New England offense. Branch is a good player, but Hudson is one of the best centers in all of football. He clearly has the advantage.