Gillette Stadium will play host to a matchup that could very well be a preview of the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots are riding high off of a 42-14 blowout victory of the Houston Texans, firmly showing the league that the Pats are the best team in the AFC. However, the 49ers present a new challenge with an even better defense from top to bottom.
There will be a full house packed in to watch the Sunday Night Football game, with the game set at 8:20 p.m. ET. The 49ers will find it difficult trekking all the way to the east coast for this game, so the Patriots do hold an advantage in that regard. Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will be calling the game on NBC for SNF, and you can always tune in via radio to 98.5 FM The Sports Hub. Dial Global Sports will also be broadcasting the game on national radio, with Steve Tasker on the sidelines and Dave Sims and James Lofton in the booth.
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The Patriots will where black-ribbon decals on their helmets in honor of the victims of the terrible tragedy at Newtown.
New England Patriots Pass Offense vs. San Francisco 49ers Pass Defense
I actually think the San Francisco 49ers pass rush poses bigger problems for the New England Patriots offensive line than the Houston Texans did, because the 49ers have so much more talent in the front seven. Aldon Smith already has 20 sacks this season and is an absolute terror of the edge. Nate Solder is better against speed rushers than power rushers, but it is Sebastian Vollmer who has a more difficult time with edge rushers- mainly due to the nagging injuries he is suffering from.
It goes beyond Aldon Smith, as Ahmad Brooks is also a sack-machine on the opposite side of the linebacker corps. Justin Smith is a better run stopper than pass rusher, but the 49ers 3-4 DE is still one of the best interior rushers in the game. Ray McDonald also brings pass rushing prowess at the position, and the Patriots offensive line will have their hands full. It’s a good thing the Pats OLs make up one of the better blocking units in the NFL.
The real challenge that the Patriots are going to have when facing the Niners lies in San Francisco’s secondary. Unlike the Texans, the 49ers do not get burned easily and have an equally dominant secondary to match up with their pass rush. Chris Culliver is the best sub-package corner in the NFL, and he’s the best corner on this team. Carlos Rogers is going to draw assignments on Wes Welker, which is actually a matchup Welker will win. However, Rogers will do his part in limiting Welker. Add in Tarell Brown and a good safety duo, and you get a 49ers secondary that is as good as any in the league.
Patriots Run Offense vs. 49ers Run Defense
Stevan Ridley has already emerged as one of the better running backs in the NFL in his first season as a starter, but he’s going to go up against a brick wall in the 49ers run defense. NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the premier linebacker duo around, with Willis being the sure-handed tackler and Bowman the dominant downhill run-stopper. Justin Smith is probably the best defensive end in the league against the run, so the Patriots best chance at doing some damage on the ground is getting a couple of big runs from Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead. I would like to see the Pats spreading the ball around to their running backs in an effort to keep the 49ers defense on their toes.
Continue Reading for my thoughts on how the New England Patriots defense stacks up against the San Francisco 49ers offense, as well as my final prediction for the game.