It’s homecoming weekend for Tom Brady as the Bay Area native will lead the New England Patriots out west to Levi’s Stadium to take on the San Francisco 49ers this afternoon. The Patriots should be an angry bunch after falling to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday night 31-24 at Gillette Stadium in what was one of the better games of the 2016 NFL season to date.
Brady proved that he was human against the Seattle defense as he completed 23 of 32 passes for 316 yards with no touchdown passes and one interception. LeGarrette Blount scored three times on the ground, finishing with 69 rushing yards on 21 carries, but did not get the ball during the final four plays from inside the two-yard line which was inexplicable. Defensively, the Patriots were not able to slow down Russell Wilson at all, as he torched New England for 348 passing yards.
The 49ers showed some resilience last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals despite losing 23-20 on a Chandler Catanzaro 34-yard field goal as time expired. Colin Kaepernick did a nice job against a ferocious Arizona defense completing 17 of 30 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. Kaepernick also was able to get loose running the ball (55 yards on 10 carries). These are numbers that are going to give San Francisco a chance to stay competitive in games down the stretch as Kaepernick’s skill set is a very good fit for head coach Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme. In addition, the defense showed some life, forcing three-second half turnovers against the Cardinals and limiting them to just three points over the final two quarters.
New England at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Patriots -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman
With Rob Gronkowski out this week with what is being listed as a chest injury that he suffered last week after getting hit by Seattle safety Earl Thomas, Tom Brady is going to need to find other targets, namely tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receiver Julian Edelman. Bennett caught seven passes for 102 yards last week and found a way to make catches at key times against a tough Seattle defense. Edelman, will be looking to atone for a critical fumble last week against the Seahawks, and like Brady will be back playing in his home area so he will be plenty motivated to have a huge game against the 49ers. This also will set up the running game very nicely for LeGarrette Blount to wear the San Francisco defense down in the second half.
2. Third down situations
In order for the 49ers to have a chance to win on Sunday, they will have to be elite on third down on both sides of the ball. Offensively, San Francisco ranks 24th in the league in converting 36 percent on third down while allowing a generous 47 percent to opponents (30th) in the same situation. Thus, it is going to be important to incorporate more quarterback runs in hopes that Colin Kaepernick can move the chains and keep the Patriots’ offense on the sideline. It also would help if the 49ers’ defense could come with a big takeaway or two, or at least get off of the field on third down in obvious passing situations.
3. Containing Colin Kaepernick
The bend-but-do-not-break mentality of the New England defense should be more effective this week against an inferior opponent like the 49ers. The mobility of Kaepernick is a huge concern for any defensive coordinator in the NFL so it is going to be critical for the Patriots to control the line of scrimmage. If the New England defense can limit the damage Kaepernick is able to do when he runs, it should benefit the Patriots considering he is only completing 53 percent of his passes on the season. Additionally, his top target, wide receiver Torrey Smith, is questionable to play because of a shoulder injury. On a team with few offensive weapons to begin with, New England’s primary focus on defense should be to keep Kaepernick in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm.
For New England the mission is simple this week – play a clean, efficient game and get out of Levi’s Stadium healthy and recharged for the stretch run. Tom Brady and the offense should be able to get rolling early and often and points should not be an issue. San Francisco should come out and play hard, as this game against the Patriots is the 49ers’ Super Bowl this season. But it won’t matter, as the Patriots should win easily and rather handily with the only questions what will the final score be and how much of the game will Bay Area native Brady play in his homecoming?
Prediction: Patriots 45, 49ers 27
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.