This will truly be a test of two very strong wills. The 49ers vaunted first-ranked defense will have its first crack at the No. 1-ranked offense in the league. What could be better than this?
Even better, this match could determine the fate of several playoff hopeful teams.
While the Patriots have locked up a playoff berth, the 49ers are still searching for their playoff invite.
With the Seattle Seahawks and several other NFC contenders lurking, this match could determine not only the NFC West, but also potential bye slots in the NFC.
For a football fan, there is no better present.
Without further ado, let's get to the five keys for the 49ers in this Sunday night showdown.
This is an explosive Patriots offense that loves to work the short to intermediate routes. Limiting the Patriots YAC will be key in slowing down this offense.
Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez will get their usual targets; however, if the 49ers can limit their opportunities after the catch, it should slow down this offense.
In my mind, Welker should still have a big day, but if my guesses are correct, this should play right into the hands of 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
This leads me to my next point...
49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has done a tremendous job with his talented corps, but the veteran coach will have his hands full against Tom Brady and Co.
Theoretically, this 49ers defensive unit matches up well with the Patriots offense. Heck, the 49ers defense usually has the advantage heading into almost any matchup, but in this case, Fangio has a lot to work with.
However, his game plan for this Sunday night tilt must be near perfect if the 49ers intend to walk out with a victory.
First and foremost, the 49ers cannot allow Brady to have time in the pocket. Luckily for the 49ers, they have an outstanding defensive line that could apply constant pressure without blitzing.
Secondly, the Niners must force the Patriots to play a 'dink and dunk' style of offense. In simple terms, allow him to work the short and intermediate areas.
If Brady begins to attack this 49ers defense in the middle of the field, or worse, down the field, this could spell trouble for the Niners.
The 49ers have the talent to play man coverage for most of the night, unlike the Houston Texans. Make Tom Brady earn seven points.
This should limit the amount of Patriots possessions and allow the 49ers to play a more balanced approach on offense.
We all know about the Patriots offense, but how about the 49ers?
Colin Kaepernick doesn't yet match up with the great Tom Brady; however, if the offensive game plan runs smoothly Sunday night, the former Nevada quarterback could walk out with a victory. Oh, if it were only so easy.
While I love Kaepernick's physical talents, this is not the night for show and tell for Jim Harbaugh. Frank Gore and the 49ers running attack needs to be the focus.
With Brandon Jacobs suspended and LaMichael James suited up for a bigger role, the 49ers must heavily lean on the experience of Frank Gore.
Jim Harbaugh will likely start Sunday night's matchup with a ton of play-action passes and bootlegs, which should open up more space for Gore later in the first quarter or half.
Jim Harbaugh will take advantage of the Patriots' aggressiveness towards stopping the run.
Expect the Patriots to see a heavy dose of Frank Gore and this 49ers running attack in the second half.
Aldon Smith has collected 19.5 sacks thus far in the season, and he is only three sacks away from tying Michael Strahan's single season sack record at 22.5.
The Patriots will likely follow a version of the defensive game plan they used against the Texans last week. At all costs, stop No. 99.
However, unlike the Texans, the 49ers have Pro Bowl talent at almost every position alongside Aldon Smith. Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks are playing at a Pro Bowl level, and let's not forget All-Pro lineman Justin Smith.
If Aldon Smith is doubled for most of the night, expect another 49ers lineman to shine. Ahmad Brooks or Ray McDonald could have a tremendous night in Foxborough if this game plan holds true.
The Patriots offense line, which is already suspect to begin with, will have trouble containing all the talent on this 49ers defensive line.
The 49ers boast two of the best inside linebackers in the league in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Both players are excellent hitters, downhill tacklers and, most importantly, solid coverage backers.
Willis has made tremendous strides in this area, and he will likely have the assignment in slowing down star tight end Aaron Hernandez.
If Willis can contain Hernandez, this Patriots offense will have trouble scoring. Hernandez is really the X-factor in this game.
The Patriots can line him up at receiver, H-back, or as a traditional tight end at the line of scrimmage. His versatility really opens up this Patriots offense, especially in the red zone.
Willis is no slouch himself. He has done a great job in containing the league's best tight ends this season, and he will have another big test this Sunday.
This should be a great matchup, folks.
You're welcome for the picture.
Just for fun, I threw in a prediction. This should be a close match, but I like how the 49ers match up with this Patriots offense.
Expect the 49ers defensive line and running attack to show up in a big way against the big and bad New England Patriots.
Give me the 49ers in a close one.
49ers 24, Patriots 17