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Storylines to follow Patriots @ Raiders

It’s time for this week’s TFDS installment of the storylines to follow for the New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders game. Once again, the stadium will be rocking and it is a sold-out house for the second consecutive game. The Raiders will once again look to prove they are better than people think as they attempt to take down another AFC powerhouse in the Patriots. If they can pull off back-to-back upsets against perennial playoff teams, it will go a long way towards making them a true contender in 2011. Hue Jackson keeps insisting that the “time is now,” so it’s up to this squad to prove it. Here are the key stories to follow this weekend.

Branch’s biggest game

Raiders’ safety Tyvon Branch is facing the biggest challenge of his career this week in taking on the two talented and productive tight ends of the Patriots. Branch’s performance on Sunday – in a depleted secondary – could go a long way towards determining the final score of the game. Branch will face several one-on-one matchups against those tight ends and he will also be responsible for containing a sneaky running game that likes to use draw plays and misdirection. With free safety Michael Huff likely to miss the game with a concussion and cornerback Chris Johnson already ruled out, Branch’s leadership capabilities will be on full display.

So far this season, Branch has been playing more like the 2009 version rather than the 2010 version. Once again, he is leading the Raiders with 24 tackles, 16 solo, and he had an interception off Mark Sanchez last week that stalled a potential Jets’ scoring drive. He has also added a batted pass and a fumble recovery this season. His instinct appears to be at an all-time high – as it should be in his fourth NFL season. Look for Jerome Boyd to see extensive time in the Raiders’ nickel package covering the tight end that is not assigned to Branch.

Seymour sending a message

When the Patriots traded away Richard Seymour just prior to the start of the 2009 season, it was evident that the defensive lineman was not happy at all with the organization. Seymour’s entire family was disrupted and forced to move from the northeast down to South Carolina right at the beginning of a new school year. For that entire season, Seymour spent most of his time on the west coast while his family was on the east coast.

Now Seymour is scheduled to play against the team where he won three rings in four Super Bowls for the first time since that trade. This is his opportunity to prove they quit on him too early. The sixth overall pick in 2001, Seymour proved he wasn’t quite done yet after moving to defensive tackle in 2010 and playing in the Pro Bowl as a result. Seymour had one of his best seasons as a pro last year and you can bet your bottom dollar this will be one of the best games of his career.

Gordon at fullback

With questions still surrounding Marcel Reece’s status for Sunday’s game, the Raiders may look to rookie tight end Richard Gordon to take over for their injured up and coming fullback. Gordon got light duty at the position in the game against the Jets and did a fine enough job that he started to get heavy rotation in the spot during this week of practice.

Head Coach Hue Jackson says he believes Gordon will be able to do a good job of filling the spot for Reece. Of course, Gordon is no Reece and he doesn’t have the explosiveness or the mismatch capabilities of Reece, but basically he needs to know which direction to go and throw a nice block for the NFL’s best rushing offense. It helps that he has good hands as a tight end and will be able to provide an outlet if quarterback Jason Campbell gets into trouble.

Also, if Reece can’t go, we could see the debut of rookie tight end David Ausberry.

Signing the Chekwa

With Chris Johnson out for the contest and Demarcus Van Dyke still in questionable status for the game, rookie cornerback Chimdi Chekwa could see extensive playing time for the second consecutive week. If Chekwa plays against the Patriots like he did against Plaxico Burress of the Jets, he could find himself getting more playing time even when Johnson and DVD return at full health. The rookie cornerback showed moxie, physicality, and a ton of heart in his first week of extensive action.

Chekwa will have a more daunting task this week facing a far superior quarterback in Tom Brady. Brady’s ability to manipulate coverages and find the open receiver could put Chekwa into record territory as far as passes thrown his direction this week. With Michael Huff possibly out as well, Stanford Routt and Chimdi Chekwa must have outstanding games to contain this passing attack that has the leading receiver in the NFL and a quarterback who has thrown for over 1,300 yards in just three games.

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