By Jerrell Richardson
New England Patriots (10-3)
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Offense Vs. Defense
This game will pit the high-powered offense of the New England Patriots against the shut down defense of the San Francisco 49ers. This contest is not a make-or-break game for either team, but it holds great importance to the 49ers. San Francisco holds a slim lead in the division, so a win will not only allow them to maintain their hold on the NFC West, but it will also give them a huge boast in their confidence. New England continues to be the standard for the league, so the still-unproven 49ers will make a huge statement if they are able to beat New England in their house.
When New England Has the Ball: Advantage Patriots
Not a single defense relishes the thought of playing against Tom Brady. It doesn’t matter who he has surrounding him, year in and year out he is in the MVP conversation. He has in Bill Belichick one of the craftiest coaches in the league, and together they form a deadly duo. The perception of the Patriots is that will rely on the arm of Brady, and although their game plan will center around the pass, they have a more-than-respectable running game, averaging 139.9 yards per game which is 7th in the league. The 49ers figure to have no problem stopping the run, however, and will turn their attention to the passing game.
The San Francisco secondary will have their hands full with Wes Welker. The Patriots leading receiver is unstoppable at times and will be Brady’s go-to guy. Welker has 95 catches on the season and he is one player that needs to be accounted for on every down. The defense will not be able to focus solely on Welker, though, as New England has a deep receiving core that has former 49er Brandon Lloyd and former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch. The Patriots also could send out all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is coming off an injury and is still questionable. To combat a threat at every position, the 49ers will need to rely on their pass rush to keep Brady uncomfortable.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The 49ers should be licking their chops when looking at the Patriot defense. New England is great against the run with Vince Wilfork clogging up the middle, but they are very susceptible to the pass. This is a great match-up for a 49ers offense that has no problems running the ball against any team. They will certainly need to put a helmet on Wilfork, but with the jumbo packages used in the running game, this is not an impossible task. The Patriots are good against the run, but they are over matched in the trenches against a physical 49er front.
When Colin Kaepernick is asked to throw the ball, that will be the Patriots’ chance to turn the game. Kaepernick continues to impress, but is still relatively inexperienced and is going against a defensive mind that has made Peyton Manning look bad at times. If Kaepernick avoids any costly turnovers, they will have no problems moving the ball, and could even be able to hang around in a shootout if needed.
Pressure Packed Game
In this battle of offense vs. defense, with two elite teams, the home team has to have the edge. However, this game means more to San Francisco, who will gain momentum and a new level of confidence if they can knock off the Patriots, and they figure to be the hungrier team. This is nothing new for the Patriots, who figure to be a team to contend with down the stretch no matter what happens Sunday Night. The 49ers turned to Colin Kaepernick to give the team a better chance to win the big one. and it will be interesting to see in a game of this magnitude of his fares. He has played on the big stage twice already, and has passed all tests with flying colors, but playing the Patriots in New England on Sunday Night with the Seahawks breathing down their necks is a whole new level of pressure for Kaepernick.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.