San Francisco 49ers: Breaking Down the Matchup Versus New England Patriots
After the 2012 NFL regular season schedules were released, 49ers fans got a chance to see what an entertaining and challenging lineup San Francisco has. In the upcoming season, the 49ers are slated to play teams like Green Bay, Detroit, New York (Giants), New Orleans and Chicago.
But their Week 15 matchup against the New England Patriots may be the most engaging game on the schedule.
For many reasons, the 49ers' game against the Patriots at Foxborough will be a contender for game of the year. In the following slideshow, I will break down each reason why the San Francisco vs. New England showdown will be the matchup to see in 2012.
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Given that this game takes place late in the year, there are some implications.
The Patriots are a team that usually gets hot in the second half of the season. It's usually about the time that Tom Brady is firing on all cylinders and the defense has stepped up out of necessity. So we can expect New England to bring it to the 49ers' likely top-ranked defense.
Also, the NFC is a lot more of a competitive division now, and with this being the second to last week of the regular season, there could very well be playoff seed at stake.
The 49ers' defense also got better as the year went on. They gelled with one another throughout the regular season and put together a spectacular performance against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Round.
Belichick vs. Harbaugh
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This is probably the best coaching matchup of the 2012 regular season. Jim Harbaugh and Bill Belichick are great coaches, one slightly more seasoned than the other. They have a similar style and functionality on and off the field.
Additionally, both men take pride in their winning percentage and are not fond of losing football games. Harbaugh and Belichick game-plan extremely well against opponents, compensating for deficiencies on their teams. Harbaugh has had to strategize with a less than stellar offense, and Belichick the same with his defense.
It's hard to tell now, but if Harbaugh gets better and remains consistent as a head coach, he could be Hall of Fame-caliber — something most already consider Belichick to be.
The first ever faceoff between these two coaches should be one for the ages, and hopefully the first of many.
Tom Brady vs. No. 1 Defense
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Tom Brady vs. Patrick Willis and the 49ers defensive unit— certain to be better than UFC 145.
Three-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady will have his first taste of the league's top defense. A squad that touts numerous Pro Bowlers and multiple All-Pros, the 49ers defense is the best in the league.
It was a record-setting defense in 2011, and with all 11 starters returning, they could be even better in 2012.
Brady has had difficulty against defenses like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, who like the 49ers, both run aggressive 3-4 defenses with great linebacking, playmaking safeties and big defensive linemen. The 49ers are now the best defensively of these three, and can surely present problems for Brady and the Patriots offense.
New England has trouble running the ball already, so against San Francisco, I'd be surprised if they had over 25 rushing yards the whole game. Right off the bat, the Patriots will use their one-dimensional pass-heavy offense and the 49ers will blow it up with sacks and turnovers.
This is a game where we could expect Aldon Smith to become a factor and get multiple sacks.
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Another factor that will play in this match is Randy Moss returning to New England to play his former team.
It was widely known that Moss wanted to return to the Patriots, but Belichick denied him that by not giving him a phone call when New Orleans and San Francisco were working him out.
In Moss' first three seasons with the Patriots, he recorded 3,765 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns — astonishing numbers.
In 2007, Moss connected with Brady in the end zone 23 times, a regular-season record. The two had great chemistry on the field, but never won a Super Bowl together.
This is likely Moss' last stop in his remarkable NFL career, and all he wants is a championship. The 49ers are his best shot to catch that dream before he hangs it up. I expect Moss to be giving the 49ers everything he's got in 2012, and going hard after the Patriots' weak secondary in Week 15.
The Better Tight Ends?
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The 49ers and Patriots are similar in that they like to use two tight end sets, and they have talented players at those positions. Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski are easily two of the top tight ends in the league, and both are the favorite and clutch targets of their respective quarterbacks.
In their own right, Davis and Gronkowski are physical freaks that help them excel to another level most tight ends never reach. Davis' gift is his muscular build that is supported by top-flight speed, while Gronkowski is a large target with a big frame, standing at 6'6".
In 2011, Gronkowski broke the record for touchdowns for a tight end in a single season with 17 —a record previously held by Vernon Davis.
Besides Davis and Gronkowski, there is Delanie Walker and Aaron Hernandez. The 49ers and Patriots are both known for their use of two tight end packages, and both teams have great pairs. It's really up for grabs which duo is better, but I would argue the 49ers because they don't have a first ballot Hall of Famer throwing to them.
It's going to be great to see this back and forth, with at least one tandem on the field at all times.
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This past offseason, the San Francisco 49ers went out and added two new offensive playmakers from the New York Giants. Both Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs have since joined the 49ers after handing the New England Patriots their second defeat in a Super Bowl rematch.
These two players know and bring what works against the Patriots. Jacobs has a history of hammering the New England run defense, and everyone witnessed Manningham's game against them in this year's Super Bowl.
With the added firepower that comes with specific experience and success against New England, it could be very beneficial for the 49ers during preparation as well as game time.
Super Bowl Preview
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Maybe the top reason to catch this game would be that it is a potential Super Bowl preview.
The 49ers and Patriots are easily early favorites to be in next year's Super Bowl. Last year the 49ers were one play away from making it happen. The Patriots may very well be representing the AFC again this year, but I would bet San Francisco improves enough to be the NFC champions in the 2012 season.
According to Football Locks, the New England Patriots are 7-1 odds to win Super Bowl XLVII, while the 49ers are 8-1. Already it seems like these are the two power teams from their respective conferences. Both teams are led by great coaching and that's something you can never bet against.
Harbaugh and Belichick are Super Bowl-caliber coaches and they lead similar-looking teams.
This is going to be as much of a battle of will, talent, pride and NFL supremacy as any game you can see in the pros. This match has everything you could want in a football game; oh, and it's going to be on prime time as the Sunday Night Football game.
It's going to be old versus new, David versus Goliath in Foxborough on December 16th, 2012.
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