New England Patriots (10-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. (turf, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 5:20 p.m.PT/8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
Line: Patriots by 3
Weather: Temperatures in the 30s, chance of rain
To preview the 49ers vs. Patriots game, here are five things to watch for:
Patriots No Huddle Offense
The 49ers are in the top three of best defenses in the NFL and they will face their toughest test of the season against Tom Brady and the Patriots. One of the things unique and highly successful the Patriots run in their offense is the no huddle. Other teams run the no huddle, but Brady operates it at a much higher rate and faster pace. This will be the first time San Francisco’s defense will go up against an offense that consistently runs a no huddle offense. The problem for the 49ers is they don’t have much depth on the defensive line, so Justin Smith and company will need all the rest they can get. That means the 49ers offense will need to sustain long drives to keep Tom Brady off the field and to rest the defense.
One of the things that make the Patriots no huddle offense so successful is it puts the defense in a hurry mode which exposes what they are going to do. It also allows Brady plenty of time to read the defense and call the right play based on their formations. The only way to slow down the Patriots no huddle offense is to simply stop them from making plays, which is easier said than done.
It makes a defense kind of declare what they’re going to do. It helps us get set up and it’s tough for them to disguise things. WR Wes Welker.
Both offenses could be without key receivers on Sunday because of injuries. The Patriots could be without tight end Rob Gronkowski who was listed as limited on the injury report for Friday’s practice. Gronknowski missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday and he is questionable to play. The tight end missed last weeks game against the Texans because of a broken forearm and a hip injury. The Patriots offense will miss Gronkowski but they will still be equally as lethal with tight end Aaron Hernandez stepping in.
For the 49ers offense they will likely be without WR Mario Manningham for the second straight week. Manningham has been out with a shoulder injury and missed practiced on Friday. What is not encouraging is Manningham practiced on Wednesday and Thursday, and then he missed Friday because of his shoulder. This gives an advantage to the Patriots defense because they will have one less receiving threat to worry about on Sunday.
Alex Boone vs. Vince Wilfork
One of the more exciting battles to watch for in the game will be between Alex Boone vs. Vince Wilfork. What makes Wilfork so dangerous on the defensive line is how explosive he is after the snap for someone his size. He has 39 tackles and two sacks this season.
Boone is in his first season as a full time starter at guard and he will likely be called on to block Wilfork for most the game. On offense, the 49ers rely much on their second ranked rushing attack to move down the field. But the Patriots defensive front seven, led by Wilfork, will be looking to slow down the running game and force the Niners to pass instead. Boone will need to have one of his best games of his career in order to keep Wilfork in check and to move the 49ers offense down the field.
49ers Pass Rush