SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (9-3-1)
at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:25 p.m. EDT
Line: New England -5, Total: 46.5
San Francisco tries to hand New England a rare December home loss when the teams meet Sunday night in Foxboro.
This will be a matchup of arguably the NFL’s best offense and best defense. The Niners have held their past four opponents under 300 yards of offense. They’re 3-1, SU and ATS, since inserting Colin Kaepernick as their starting quarterback. The Patriots are coming off a 42-14 hammering of Houston, marking their seventh straight victory and 13th straight win in December. But they’ll have a short week to prepare for Kaepernick. They have had issues against the NFC West, getting upset by Arizona and Seattle this season, but the Pats have now won 20 straight December home games.
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Kaepernick has completed 69% of his passes with a 100.1 passer rating as a starter, and has added 174 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Although San Francisco likes to pound the football, it will certainly allow Kaepernick to use his arm against New England's 29th-ranked passing defense surrendering 276 YPG through the air. WR Michael Crabtree has 25 more catches (66) than any other teammate, and TE Vernon Davis creates huge matchup problems with 5 TD and 11 gains of 20+ yards this season. However, San Francisco's strength is running the football where it averages 162 rushing YPG and 5.3 yards per carry, both which rank second in the NFL. Frank Gore has carried the football more than 200 times (211) for the seventh straight season, averaging a healthy 4.9 YPC and scoring seven touchdowns. The Patriots do have a strong run defense though, allowing just 101 rushing YPG this season (8th in NFL). But they are also reliant on making big plays, as New England leads the AFC with 34 forced turnovers this season. The Niners rarely make mistakes though, with just 12 giveaways all season. Only the Patriots (10 giveaways) have fewer miscues in the entire NFL.
The big news in New England is that TE Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) is practicing, and has a slim chance of playing on Sunday night for the first time since Week 11. But even if he doesn't suit up, the Pats have plenty of very capable receivers (WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, and TE Aaron Hernandez) to catch passes from the sizzling Tom Brady. New England's star signal caller has completed 63% of his passes for 1,988 yards (284 YPG), 19 TD and just 1 INT during his team's seven-game win streak. A big part of his success is due to an offensive line that isn't letting him be touched very often. Brady has taken just seven sacks in these seven games, four of which came in Miami. However, the 49ers have the best pass rusher in football in DE Aldon Smith, who leads the league with 19.5 sacks. Although the Patriots rank fifth in the NFL in passing offense, they are also extremely capable of running the football with 140 YPG (7th in league). RB Stevan Ridley has 1,082 rushing yards and 10 TD, but the 49ers give up just 91 rushing YPG and 185 passing YPG, numbers which both rank second in the NFL.