In a rare NFL matchup, the New England Patriots go across the country to the Bay Area to face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. How rare is this Week 11 matchup you ask? Well for how long both franchises have been in existence, this is only the thirteenth time these two teams have played against each other with the 49ers leading the all-time series 8-4 over the Patriots.
Both teams enter this game coming off tough Week 10 losses that they are hoping to put behind them. For the 49ers, after a week 1 shutout of their division rival Los Angeles Rams, they have lost 8 games in a row including a 3 point loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week where they actually had some decent quarterback play from Colin Kaepernick. The Patriots have fared a little better this year and lost only their 2nd game of the season last week at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: The Patriots’ Tom Brady is coming off a game where he had lowest QB rating of the season. However, the good news is that he is still near the top of the league in passer rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt. The 49ers, on the other hand, are just another team, like the Browns, Bears, and Dolphins, who are searching for a viable solution at the quarterback.
Running Backs – Patriots: Though San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde has been the main rushing threat in the 49ers backfield, beyond him there is not much else besides their quarterbacks to provide a running threat. The Patriots’ running back combo of Blount and White have combine for 1,111 yards from scrimmage and have scored 14 touchdowns all together.
Wide Receivers – Push: Though both teams have talent at the wide receiver positions, neither group has distinguished themselves, from a statistical point of view, from each other to give a clear edge in this comparison.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Though Rob Gronkowski’s game time status is still unknown due to his lung injury, the Patriots have Martellus Bennett ready to go who, by the way, has been equally as productive within the offensive scheme.
Offensive Line – Push: Both teams’ offensive lines have produced similar results in run blocking and pass protection.
Defensive Front Seven – Patriots: While both teams have struggled rushing the passer, the Patriots front seven has done a better job than their 49ers counterparts in slowing down opponents’ running games. Though New England is coming of a very poor run defense performance, San Francisco ranks dead last in the NFL giving up over 180 yards per game.
Secondary – Push: Both the 49ers and Patriots allow about the same amount of yards per game. Where San Francisco’s secondary does have more interceptions, the Patriots’ defensive backs have held opposing passers to a lower quarterback rating overall.
Special Teams – 49ers: While the return game stats are very similar between the two squads, the 49ers’ Phil Dawson has been more reliable than the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski. Additionally, that Patriots’ fumble prone rookie returner Cyrus Jones should put the fear of God into every Patriots’ fan every time he touches the ball.
Coaching – Patriots: After a turbulent 3 season in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly has tried to resurrect his NFL coaching career in San Francisco with very little success. Though he has proven his system can be productive in the NFL, without the talent on the field, starting with the quarterback position, Kelly may be looking for an exit back to the college game sooner rather than later.
For the Patriots, Bill Belichick has been under some scrutiny over the last few weeks for some personnel decisions on the defensive side of the ball that has many in the media questioning his decision making with a team built to contend for the Super Bowl this year. Though the questions are swirling, he has his team near the top of the AFC with 7 games to go.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to Victory:
Stop the Run: Though the Patriots played well against the run earlier in the season, last week’s performance against the Seahawks was very concerning for Patriots fans. New England needs to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and force the 49ers to throw which has not been one of their strengths this season.
Fire Up the Blount: When facing the worst run defense in the NFL, there is no need to get cute with the offensive play calls and certainly no excuse not to give the ball to LeGarrette Blount 30 or times.
Special Teams, Special Teams, Special Teams: Last year when the Patriots faced Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, they lost 35-28 which cost them the number 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Specifically in that game, special team blunders where the death blow to New England. The Patriots need to make sure they do not take the 49ers for granted otherwise sloppy play could land them in serious trouble. This includes finding another return option than Cyrus Jones.
Though this game seems like a mismatch on paper, the Patriots are coming off a very bad home loss which seems to have raised a lot of questions about New England’s defense. Generally the Patriots have responded in these situations but a cross country trip coupled with the unknown status of Rob Gronkowski does not really help the situation. Look for the Patriots to lean heavily on their running back combo of Blount and White to open up the play action passing game down the field.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 27 – 49ers 20