Patriots - Raiders: Game Preview

The New England Patriots (8-5) travel to McAfee Stadium to take on the Oakland Raiders (3-10) Sunday at 4:15pm. Here is more on the matchup.

New England Patriots (8-5) at Oakland Raiders (3-10)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/14/08
STADIUM: Oakland Coliseum
SURFACE: Grass
WEATHER: Weather Underground Gameday Forecast
TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon)

SERIES: 29th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead, 14-13-1. The Patriots have won four of their last seven games against the Raiders, including two in the playoffs, but are only 5-10 on the road against the Raiders in the regular season. Belichick is 4-1 against Oakland with two of those wins coming as the coach of the Patriots.

PREDICTION: Patriots 27-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: Patriots QB Matt Cassel left the team following the death of his father Monday and while he's likely to play Sunday, Cassel will have missed key practice time. He'll largely stay away from CB Nnamdi Asomugha and go after Chris Johnson, who has impressed at times but also suffered some technique breakdowns that have led to big plays. The Raiders also need more consistent play from their defensive line, which can be dominating one serious and invisible the next. ... It's time for the Raiders to get rookie RB Darren McFadden more involved along with starter Justin Fargas. The Patriots are dealing with a slew of injuries along their defensive front seven, and LBs Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin played last Sunday just days after re-signing. QB JaMarcus Russell has a dangerous combination - he's struggling with his accuracy, lacks speed among his receiving corps and his blind side will be protected by new starting LT Mario Henderson.

KEY INJURIES: Patriots: ILB Tedy Bruschi (knee) is out; DE Ty Warren (groin) and NT Vince Wilfork (arm) and OLB Pierre Woods (jaw) are uncertain. Raiders: C Jake Grove (calf) is uncertain; Russell (ankle) is expected to play.

FAST FACTS: The Patriots stayed on the West Coast and practiced in the Bay Area following last Sunday's win in Seattle. ... Patriots WR Randy Moss returns to Oakland for the first time since being traded by the Raiders in the offseason in 2007.

PLAYER NEWS

Patriots:
--QB Matt Cassel arrived at the team's practice facility out west on Thursday and should be ready to go for the final two workouts, which suggests there's a good chance he'll play Sunday.
--S James Sanders is suffering from an abdomen injury that kept him out of practice earlier this week, but there's a good chance he'll be ready to go Sunday despite missing the second half of last week's game in Seattle.
--LB Tedy Bruschi is still not with the team in San Jose and, by all indications, will not be on the field Sunday against Oakland. Various reports suggest he'll be out for the season due to a knee injury.
--DE Ty Warren was back in practice in a limited capacity Thursday despite his groin injury, which is good news for the Patriots. He hasn't played in three weeks, but could be back on the field Sunday.
--RB Kevin Faulk and WR Randy Moss have practiced at a limited capacity this week as well, but their respective absences were not injury-related, so they should be fine for Sunday.

Raiders:
--QB JaMarcus Russell increased his workload during practice and said he is confident he will be able to play without any limitations against New England.
--C Jake Grove increased his workload during practice with coach Tom Cable saying he would determine Friday or Saturday if he will start against New England.
--CB Nnamdi Asomugha will cover Randy Moss on occasion, but Tom Cable said the Raiders will not be tied to having him cover Moss exclusively.
--TE Zach Miller needs five receptions to become the first Raiders tight end to catch 50 passes since Ethan Horton in 1991.
--G Robert Felton, an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas who was in training camp with Buffalo, was signed to the practice squad.

SCOUTING REPORTS

Patriots:

The New England Patriots have had enough to deal with on the field this year. Now they're preparing to deal with a loss that makes every pulled hamstring or twisted ankle seem trivial by comparison.

Greg Cassel, the father of Patriots' quarterback Matt Cassel, died Monday. As a result, Cassel missed practice earlier in the week before rejoining his teammates at San Jose State University on Thursday.

While the quarterback will most likely play Sunday in Oakland, it's unclear whether or not he'll be able to focus with so much going on in his personal life. Chalk this one up as another first-time experience Cassel will have to deal with in what has been a wild, unpredictable season.

"Well, it's bigger than football. I have been through that during the season as well," said coach Bill Belichick, whose father, Steve, died in November 2005. "It's a personal situation that you just have to deal with. As I said, our thoughts and prayers are with him."

The Patriots can't afford to be lackadaisical against the Raiders. Oakland's a bad team, but the Patriots understand they need to win each of their final three games just to have a shot at making the playoffs. They can't look past anyone, nor can they win without their on-field leader at his best.

Wide receiver Wes Welker, who has been hot of late, is confident Cassel will be ready to perform this weekend. He has watched his quarterback conquer everything thrown at him this year, including the difficult process of developing chemistry with receivers he's never thrown to before.

"It was just really getting his confidence going," Welker said. "I think the Denver game was a good game for him and he really moved it around. In the Jets game, he played a really consistent game and didn't make any big mistakes or anything. We were able to move the ball and put points on the board."

With or without Cassel, the Patriots must continue to focus on the Raiders, who they claim are better than their record indicates. At this point, they can't worry about anyone's record -- not even their own. This is a three-game season now and they need wins in each of those final three games to avoid getting locked out of the playoff race.

"It doesn't make any difference where we are right now," Belichick said. "It only matters where things are at the finish line and right now the only thing we can do anything about is the Oakland game, so we are just going to put all of our energy and effort into this game and try to be as competitive as we can on Sunday against the Raiders.

"We will worry about next week next week and whatever is in the past is in the past. That's already in the books, so whatever it is it is. We just have to try to control what we can do this week and that's all we are thinking about."

Raiders:

When the Raiders traded up with the New England Patriots to make Mario Henderson the first of three selections in the third round two years ago, Henderson was called "a project."

When Henderson suited up for only one game in his entire rookie season despite playing for a team that was having trouble keep its tackles healthy, he was labeled an underachiever.

With an offseason under his belt, coach Lane Kiffin was hoping Henderson could make a run at a starting position, with the hope he could supplant incumbent journeyman Cornell Green at right tackle.

It never happened.

In fact, Henderson became one of the most frequently criticized players by Kiffin, who said, "There are some questions about how physical he was, about his passion for the game, and we're trying to improve that."

With physicality and passion being two key ingredients for a lineman, Henderson had a long way to go.

Eight days into camp, Kiffin said Henderson was working on both sides and that starting was essentially out of the question.

Thirteen games into his second season, Henderson will be the starting left tackle when the Raiders host the New England Patriots, meaning he'll get a heavy dose of Richard Seymour.

Henderson said his aggression and passion is not an issue.

"I'm two-sided," Henderson said. "I'm always cool, but you don't want get me mad. Even as a kid, I'd stay cool, but if you hit me, then I wasn't going to stop hitting you."

He started in Weeks 2 and 3 when Harris was out with a knee injury, then took his seat back on the bench.

Although Harris has struggled all season, his 11 false starts lead the NFL and he has been a turnstile against some of the NFL's best pass rushers, it took Henderson this long to finally get a look.

Interim coach Tom Cable, also Henderson's line coach, conceded it has more to do with Harris than to gauge Henderson's worth as the starter now and into the future.

"Mostly it's just having so much negative play at that one spot and being able to smooth that out and not let that be an issue," Cable said.

In Henderson's previous starts, Kiffin said the Raiders gave him lots of help with tight ends and chipping fullbacks.

Cable hinted the training wheels may be off for New England.

"I think you have to let him play," Cable said. "He has to fit in the system. He knows the system, he's played enough now so you have to be able to count on him and that means you play and let it rip in terms of calling the game."

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