Week 15: San Francisco 49ers At New England Patriots
- QuarterbackColin Kaepernick will face his biggest test of the season to date when he faces the Patriots in prime time on the road. Kaepernick appears to have all the skills needed to be a great quarterback, but he is still unproven despite head coach Jim Harbaugh’s confidence in him. Kaepernick is a remarkable athlete with excellent passing skills.Tom Brady and the Patriots had perhaps their most satisfying game of the season in their Week 14 Monday night win over the Texans. The 42-14 triumph indicates that New England is once again a legitimate candidate to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Brady is having another stellar year. He has thrown for 3,833 yards and he has a 29-4 touchdown-interception ratio.
- OffenseFrank Gore is going to test the Patriots’ solid run defense. Gore is a tremendous power back who has rushed for 1,035 yards and has a 4.9 yards per carry average. Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree are dependable receivers who can make the tough catches and stretch the defense. Tight end Vernon Davis will be difficult for the Patriots’ secondary to cover.Stevan Ridley has had a big influence on the Patriots’ offense this year, running with power and purpose. He may be unheralded but he has gained 1,082 yards and he has scored 10 touchdowns. Wes Welker will catch nearly anything that comes his way and Aaron Hernandez has been stellar at tight end while Rob Gronkowski recovers from his broken arm. Brandon Lloyd is capable of making the highlight-film catch.
- DefenseThe Niners are going to have to play their best defensive game of the year if they are going to travel to New England and come away with the prime-time victory. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith leads the league with 19.5 sacks. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman leads the team in tackles with 116. Free safety Dashon Goldson has three interceptions and 13 passes defensed.The Pats are a much better defensive team now than they were earlier in the year. That’s because the pass defense has stepped up quite a bit. Former Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib has given the Pats greater talent in the secondary. Huge defensive tackle Vince Wilfork can collapse the pocket with his bull rush and can destroy the opponents’ running game.
- Special TeamsThe 49ers have not been consistent on special teams. While Kyle Williams is capable of the long return on kickoffs and punts – he had a 94-yard kickoff return earlier this year – Niners opponents are getting the best of it on kickoff returns by nearly 3.0 yards per return. Placekicker David Akers has made just 23-of-32 FG attempts.The Patriots have gotten touchdowns from their punt and kickoff return teams. Stephen Gostkowski is going to come through in clutch situations for the Patriots. The kicker has made 24-of-30 FG attempts this season, including both of his tries from 50 yards or more. Zoltan Mesko has placed 22 of 45 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The Patriots have more edges, but the 49ers are the more physical team. If they can exploit the Patriots with their powerful offensive line and the defense can keep Brady & Co. from going wild, they should have a good chance to take this game deep in the fourth quarter. While Jim Harbaugh is an excellent coach, can he match wits with Bill Belichick?