By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Based on the Patriots’ brief history in international games, they should absolutely demolish the Oakland Raiders when they face off on Sunday in Mexico City.
The Pats have only played outside the U.S. twice under Bill Belichick, but they are 2-0 and have won those two games by a combined score of 80-14. Between a 35-7 drubbing of the Buccaneers (during the disappointing 2009 season, no less) and a 45-7 shellacking of Jeff Fisher’s Rams in 2012, Belichick’s ability to simply have his team more prepared and focused than the other seems to amplify when international travel is added to the equation.
It’s tough to use games from five and eight years ago to assume that this year’s Patriots will look similarly dominant on Sunday, when they take on the Raiders at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. But the two factors that remain the same are the coach and quarterback, and there’s reason to believe that their run of international dominance could continue. In part, you just saw why on Sunday night in Denver.
Belichick has given the Patriots a major advantage in recent weeks just by limiting or eliminating mistakes entirely. The offense hasn’t turned the ball over since Week 6 at the Jets, while the defense has markedly improved in terms of points allowed. In Denver, the Patriots played a clean game with no turnovers and only one penalty while the Broncos turned the ball over twice, couldn’t get out of their own way on special teams, and had some costly flags. The result was one of the more nonchalant stompings the Patriots have given an opponent in recent memory.
There’s reason to believe that the Raiders will be different than the one the Patriots’ past London opponents, and it goes beyond pure talent. Derek Carr is obviously a much better quarterback than Josh Johnson (Who? Exactly.) and 2012-era Sam Bradford, and neither the ’09 Bucs nor the 2012 Raiders had any defender as dangerous as Khalil Mack.
One obvious reason to believe that, at the very least, Carr will play well on Sunday is because he’s literally been there before. The Raiders traveled to Mexico City last season, giving them a distinct advantage in that particular respect. Carr was 21-for-31 for 295 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception (good for a 117.0 passer rating) in the Raiders’ 27-20 win over the Texans.
That game also came after the Raiders’ bye week, which is another area where Carr has excelled in his young career. The Raiders are 2-1 in his three games after the bye, and the QB has gone 63-for-96 (65.6 percent) for 866 yards, 10 touchdowns, and two interceptions. That’s a 120.4 passer rating.
Perhaps history can continue to repeat itself with Carr and he can give the Patriots defense some trouble on Sunday. The NFL will have to hope that the game is at least closer than any of the debacles they’ve had in London this season. The four U.K. games so far have been one big bloodbath, with teams winning by an average margin of 26.75 points.
At least one of the teams simply hasn’t shown up each time in London; if the same happens in Mexico City on Sunday, which team is more likely to lay an egg? Carr and The Raiders have gotten the job done, both on international fields and after their bye weeks – but the Patriots rarely get dominated ever.
The safest bet is that the Patriots continue to roll on their annual second-half upswing and simply execute without making silly mistakes, while waiting for someone on the Raiders to commit game-changing fumbles, interceptions, or penalties. It’s fair to note that the Raiders are also getting a much tougher matchup than they got in this spot last season. But compared to what they’ve seen in London and what they’ve gotten from their opponents recently, the Patriots should expect a more formidable opponent than usual and the league should expect a more competitive game than they’ve gotten outside the U.S. this year.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.