KICKOFF: Thursday, 9:00 p.m. ET
LOCATION: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya
RADIO: National: CBS Radio, Marv Albert, Boomer Esiason, John Dockery; Local: WBCN 104.1 FM, Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti; Spanish: CBS Spanish Radio, Armando Quintero, Benny Ricardo
SERIES: Two charter members of the American Football League, the Patriots and Raiders played each other in the first year both franchises were established, 1960, and have met 26 times since. The Raiders have won 14 of those matchups, with one resulting in a tie. Although the pair used to compete frequently, they have only played each other twice since 1994. The most notable contest between the two teams came in the 2001 playoffs in what is considered the "snow game." With the score tied at 13 and four inches of snow on the ground, K Adam Vinatieri nailed a 23-yard field goal in overtime to send New England to the AFC Championship after the Patriots retained possession on a highly contested fumble call earlier the game.
2004 RANKINGS*: Raiders: offense 17th (32nd rush, 8th pass); defense 30th (22nd rush, 30th pass). Patriots: offense 7th (7th rush, 11th pass); defense 9th (6th rush, 17th pass) * in yardage
KEYS TO THE GAME: After a preseason of a few more downs than ups, Bill Belichick has shaven the Patriots roster down and the best team New England can field. Even with all the offseason losses, this season's team may be the most athletic and talented in years.
The Patriots have so many options at wide receiver it could make one's head spin. Oakland's free safety Stuart Schweigert will need to have his head on a swivel to keep an eye on everything happening around him. With Deion Branch, Andre' Davis, David Givens, Tim Dwight and TE Benjamin Watson all serving as legitimate targets through the air, QB Tom Brady could put up some career numbers this season. With former pro-bowler Troy Brown back in the fold concentrating only on playing offense, his experience could prove important in crunch time.
There is no better time than now to test out these weapons in full force against a Raider defense that allowed nearly 250 passing yard per game last year. The preseason has shrouded what Brady and these speedy receivers can do with only occasional hints and glimpses of what should be executed tonight. It's time to see if the offense can be relied upon because there are too many things New England needs to work on defensively with an inexperienced defensive coordinator no less, for it to have to worry about its offense as well.
The weaknesses the Patriots have on the defensive line are no secret. Oakland placed last in the NFL in rushing last season but that won't stop them trying to exploiting those weaknesses. RB LaMont Jordan, whom the Raiders acquired from the Jets in the offseason, has looked sharp this preseason. His strong performance gives head coach Norv Turner the inclination to test the running game in much the same way the Patriots will be testing their throwing game. Turner also has WR Randy Moss at his disposal, giving the Raider offense better balance than it had last year. Having both Moss and Jordan available should take the pressure off of QB Kerry Collins.
Belichick has high hopes for his top two rookie picks Logan Mankins and Ellis Hobbs, III. The rookies have slowly been seeing more time with the first team, to get them prepared to step in when called upon. Hobbs is seeing more time at cornerback rather than just on the return duties. Mankins is penciled in as the starter at guard. Their strong preseason performance should only improve as they develop over the season.
FAST FACTS: Raiders: Both assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan of the Raiders served as assistant coaches at one point in New England. Oakland guard Ron Stone grew up in West Roxbury, Mass. and went to Boston College. Raiders owner Al Davis was born and raised in Brockton, Mass., which is less than 20 miles away from Foxborough. Patriots: New England has a 24-3 (.889) record all-time at Gillette Stadium, including postseason games. The Patriots also hold the longest current home winning streak in the NFL at 20 games - a streak spanning more than two calendar years. The Patriots are only 2-3 in season opening games under coach Belichick, who needs one victory for 100 in his career. Pregame ceremonies at Gillette tonight include the unveiling of the Super Bowl championship banner with performances by Grammy winners Green Day, Santana, and more.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're excited to get going. It's football season. We still have a long way to go. I don't think were anywhere close to where we will be or eventually need to be, but it's time to get started playing and Thursday night there will be a lot of energy in the stadium. We're looking forward to being there." - Bill Belichick on the home opener tonight.
PREDICTION: 27-20, Patriots
Raiders: OUT; WR Doug Gabriel - Finger; QUESTIONABLE; RB Justin Fargas - Knee, WR Jerry Porter - Hamstring
Patriots: QUESTIONABLE; LB Tully Banta-Cain - Knee, WR Andre Davis - foot, WR David Givens - Chest, T Brandon Gorin - thigh, DE Jarvis Green - Thigh, WR Bethel Johnson - Thigh, DT Dan Klecko - Knee, S James Sanders - Ankle, CD Duane Starks - Thigh; PROBABLE; QB Tom Brady - Right Shoulder.
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