Coming off their most impressive win of the season over the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots (10-3) this week will welcome another tough foe in the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1). While the 49ers may not be considered as much of a test as the Texans, they currently sit atop the NFC West and have impressive wins over the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and the Chicago Bears. After their win Monday night over Houston, the Patriots are back in the hunt for the number one seed in the AFC and will attempt to further that cause Sunday night.
The 49ers offense right now is centered around one controversy. In the team’s week ten tie against the St. Louis Rams starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion. In his place, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started. The young backup led the 49ers to scoring 32 points against the best defense in the NFL. The next week when Smith was cleared to play head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to stay with the hot hand and effectively benched Smith because of his injury.
On Sunday the 49ers will again start Kaepernick who has been on fire since becoming the new starter for the 49ers but he’s not the only offensive weapon for the visitors. Running back Frank Gore has been one of the best backs in the league for several years and this season is no exception. Gore currently ranks ninth in the league in rushing averaging 79.6 yards per game.
The 49ers also have a group of wide receivers that could cause problems for the Patriots. Wide Receivers Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, and Randy Moss and tight end Vernon Davis have been causing headaches for defenses across the league all season. While the 49ers only average 199 yards a game through the air, Smith and Kaepernick have combined for a passer rating of 101.6 much in part to the receivers they throw to.
The Patriots defense is coming off of its most impressive showing of the season. Against a Texans offense that boasts Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the two Houston stars were shut down by the Patriots defensive line and cornerbacks. Monday night the Patriots defense, which continues to improve each week, held the Texans offense which averages 28.1 points and 384.5 yards per game to just 14 points and 323 yards. This should give that defense plenty of confidence heading into Sunday night’s matchup.
While the 49ers offense is a threat, so is their defense. Last week the Patriots offensive line had to block J.J. Watt and did a stellar job but this week they may have a tougher task handling Aldon Smith who has recorded 19.5 sacks this season. There have been questions surrounding the Patriots offensive line this season because of their inexperience but limiting Watt and Smith in back-to-back weeks would be a monumental accomplishment.
The Patriots’ lethal offense that shredded the Texans defense Monday night will have their hands full this week. While the 49ers boast a dangerous defensive line, the defensive backfield is just as tough with the likes of Perrish Cox, Carlos Rogers, and Donte Whitner. This group has been terrorizing offensive passing games all year and will be a task for the Patriots.
The Patriots offense was virtually unstoppable Monday night even without tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman. But just when they thought the injuries had stopped, they lost another offensive weapon. When Edelman was lost for the year the Patriots brought back Donte Stallworth who was cut by the Patriots just prior to the start of the season.
But Stallworth, who caught a 63-yard touchdown, suffered an ankle injury and was placed on the injured reserve. The loss forced the Patriots to re-sign Deion Branch Wednesday who had been released and not re-signed because of a hamstring injury.
Despite yet another injury and still missing Gronkowski, the Patriots do still have wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, running back Stevan Ridley, and their MVP candidate quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots have lost several key players on offense throughout the year and not lost a step so counting them down would be a colossal mistake.
The matchup to be watched in this game will be the 49ers defense against the Patriots offense. The 49ers this season have the second ranked defense in the league giving up just 275.5 yards per game and 14.2 points per game. But just like every other team that has faced the Patriots this season, they haven’t seen an offense like they’ll face Sunday night.
If the Patriots can find a way to win Sunday night they’ll be in a great position to get a bye in the first round of the playoffs and possibly home field throughout the AFC playoffs. The following two games against the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars are very winnable. But first the Patriots must focus on the 49ers that bring in a very formidable offense and one of the best defenses in the league. It’ll be the second straight test for the Patriots. If they win this one, they may be unanimous favorites to win the Super Bowl.