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What To Watch For: Stevan Ridley Poised For Big Day Vs. Raiders

BOSTON (CBS) -- For the first time since early January, there will once again be a real football game played at Gillette Stadium.

Preseason contests aside, it's been quite some time since we've seen Tom Brady lead the Patriots out onto the field for a full 60 minutes of football, so excitement will be high for this 1 p.m. kickoff.

As for what will take place after the ball is kicked, here's a look at What To Watch For as the Patriots host the Raiders.

Wide Receiver Roulette
Last week, it was surprising to see that wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was not active in Minnesota, especially considering Thompkins caught five passes and was targeted 10 times in Week 1 in Miami. That was after a productive preseason, so it raised some eyebrows to see Thompkins' name on the inactive list.

We only know that Bill Belichick makes decisions "that are in the best interest of the team," so we don't know what the head coach's plans are for this weekend with the group of receivers. Theoretically, everyone except for Julian Edelman should be fair game to spend Sunday afternoon in street clothes, as Thompkins' five receptions have him ranked second on the team among wide receivers. So while the first item to keep an eye on will be who will be suiting up on the outside, the next thing to watch will be ...

Brady Distribution Co.
Perhaps more than any other 23-point victory in the history of the sport of football, the Patriots' win over the Vikings has been picked apart so thoroughly that it seems at times as though they were actually on the losing end of that thumping. Of course they weren't, but the fact that Tom Brady treated most of his receivers as if they were ghosts has received quite a bit of criticism. And it's not without reason, as Brady himself admitted this week that he needs to be better at spreading the ball around.

Through two weeks, Danny Amendola has been targeted just six times, Aaron Dobson just twice, and Brandon LaFell has yet to haul in a pass as a member of the New England Patriots. Meanwhile, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski account for 42 percent of Brady's pass attempts, 47 percent of his completions, 62 percent of his passing yards and 100 percent of his touchdowns.

As a result of relying mostly on two players to catch passes, the Patriots currently rank 27th in the NFL in passing yards. Of course, it's a tiny sample size, but a Tom Brady-led offense should not rank dead last with 5.2 yards per pass attempt.

Brady has set out to do better this week, and if he wants to prove the first two games were just a statistical anomaly, he'll have to prove the same of Oakland's pass defense, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL heading into Week 3.

A Ridley Repeat?
One possible reason for the success of the Raiders' pass defense is that their run defense has been atrocious. The Raiders' run D ranks dead last in rushing yards allowed (400, or 200 per game) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (5.0). They allowed Arian Foster to pick up 138 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries last week, and they let Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson combine for 170 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in Week 1.

Stevan Ridley, who last week turned in his first 100-yard performance since Week 9 of last year and just his second since November 2012, has to be licking his chops at the opportunity to run against that porous defense. He said this week that he'll already have a little bit of extra pep in his step for the home opener.

"It's gonna be awesome, man," Ridley said. "Personally, my dad's old favorite team was the Raiders until, of course, I became a Patriot. We've got about 14 people coming up this week, and my mom's very excited about it and my family's going to be here, so it's going to be an exciting atmosphere to come back to Foxboro and getting in the home stadium."

With all of those loving eyes in the crowd, Ridley should have a chance to really put on a show for them.

"We Suck" Woodson
Athletes these days are too buttoned-up, too concerned about the distraction they'll cause their teams if they actually speak their minds. So thank goodness for Charles Woodson.

The 37-year-old is a 17-year NFL veteran. He's been in the league forever. He's seen a lot of things -- some good, some bad -- but he does not like what he's seen out of the 2014 Oakland Raiders.

"We suck," Woodson said after the Raiders lost by 16 points in their home opener last week. "Everybody's optimistic. You know, it's our first home game. They're excited to see their Raiders, and what was that we put out there on the field? That's embarrassing. And I'm embarrassed for this team, I'm embarrassed for the fans, and the thing about is, I'm part of it. I don't know what we need to do as a team going forward, but something's going to have to be done. I don't know what that is, but we've go to do better than we did today."

No punches were pulled in that statement, and it'll be interesting to see how Woodson follows it up. Will he tap into his Heisman days and make a game-changing play or two? Or will fellow Michigan Wolverine Tom Brady pick on him every chance he gets? Brady spoke earlier this week about his respect for Woodson, but he's also recently said that there's no room for "friend time" on Sunday afternoons.

There's also the possibility that a comment like that leads to all sorts of spite and anger in a locker room. If things get ugly on the scoreboard, what will the Raiders sideline look like? It is at the very least a captivating sidebar to what might not be the world's most competitive game.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.



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