FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots have been mediocre in splitting their first two games. Yet they're two-touchdown favorites on Sunday.
No surprise, considering they're facing the Oakland Raiders.
The visitors for the Patriots' home opener have lost 14 straight games in the Eastern time zone. They start a rookie quarterback who hasn't won yet, have allowed more yards rushing than any other team, and were dominated last Sunday by a team that lost its final 14 games last season.
The Patriots, echoing coach Bill Belichick's message that no opponent be taken lightly, ignore the point spread.
"They're off to a start they obviously didn't want to get off to, but they've got a lot of really good players, especially on defense," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I think we're going to get their best shot. It's a very good defense. They're hungry for the ball."
The Raiders' defense had an interception and a fumble recovery in their 19-14 loss to the Jets. But in their 30-14 loss to Houston, the Raiders had no takeaways while the Texans intercepted two of Derek Carr's passes and recovered two fumbles.
"There have been obviously negative things that have happened. There have obviously been a lot of positive things that have happened," Carr said. "Neither really matter to me. I'm just trying to grow."
The Patriots' offense also has struggled.
In their 33-20 opening loss to the Miami Dolphins, they gained just 67 yards in the second half when they were outscored 20-0. In a 30-7 win against the Minnesota Vikings, only one drive covered more than 50 yards and Brady threw for just 149.
"We've got a lot of football left. We're still trying to figure out what we're good at, and we'll probably be trying to figure that out for a long time," Brady said. "I don't think we're ready for the Super Bowl this week."
They're a lot closer than the Raiders.
But coach Dennis Allen says they're headed in the right direction after 11 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth or a winning record.
"I think they are, but we need to begin to get the results on the field and that's what really matters," he said.
Here are other things to watch for Sunday:
COLLEGE REUNION: Nearly 13 years after ex-Michigan teammates Brady and Charles Woodson crashed into history in the "tuck rule" game, the Patriots quarterback and the Raiders safety meet again.
"He was making plays back (in college) and he's still making plays the same way," Brady said.
In the final two minutes of regulation in the AFC divisional round on Jan. 19, 2002, Woodson blitzed and knocked the ball out of Brady's hand as it was moving forward. The Raiders recovered, but the call was overturned on replay. The Patriots kicked the tying field goal, won 16-13 in overtime and went on to their first Super Bowl championship.
"I don't think we've ever talked about that, but I remember it very well," Brady said, "and I'm sure he does, too."
THE OTHER TUCK: After nine seasons with 60 1-2 sacks for the Giants, defensive end Justin Tuck signed with the Raiders, So far, they have the NFL's worst run defense.
"A lot of times you overlook the little things and those are the things that come back to bite you in games: shedding blocks, using your hands up front, making the right checks to get everybody in the right position," Tuck said.
Now the Raiders must face Stevan Ridley, who rushed for 101 yards against the Vikings. The Raiders have allowed an average of 200 yards rushing per game.
HOME AGAIN: The Patriots are 11-1 in their last 12 home openers, losing only in 2012 to the Arizona Cardinals 20-18 when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal on the next-to-last play.
"It's good when you're at home and you're playing with your own fans," Ridley said. "We go to an away stadium and (our) fans are way up top of the nosebleeds (seats) somewhere and you don't really hear them."
TRAVELIN' MEN: The trip to Foxborough is the first leg of a long eastbound journey for the Raiders. They'll leave after the game for London, where they play the Dolphins the following Sunday.
"The schedule is what the schedule is, and our job is to show up and try to win a football game," Allen said. "We're not really focused on the travel."
WHAT'S MY LINE? : Both teams shook up their lines before the season — the Raiders on offense and defense, the Patriots on offense. Oakland added free agents Donald Penn and Austin Howard on the offensive side and free agents Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith on defense. For the Patriots, the trade of left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay late last month resulted in Belichick rotating players on the offensive line.
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