49ers vs. Patriots: 5 Reasons High-Profile Matchup Will Produce Super Bowl Champ
With tonight's matchup between the 49ers and Patriots a possible precursor to the Super Bowl, neither team failed to disappoint. With great coaches and elite role players, chances are one of these teams is bringing home a championship this season.
Both of these teams have great strengths and will be tough to beat in the postseason.
Defense Wins Championships
Even in today's NFL, the old mantra rings true: Defense wins championships.
San Francisco has the edge here. The Niners have a stud defensive unit, allowing fewer than 300 yards of total offense per game. That's good for second in the NFL.
New England's a bit further down that list, allowing 376 yards per game—25th in the NFL. A big reason for that is a less-than-stellar Patriot secondary, but it's improved with the addition of Aqib Talib.
Despite the difference in yards allowed, both teams are solid at preventing points. San Francisco ranks first in this territory, with opponents managing just 14.2 points a game. The Pats rank 12th, surrendering just 21.1 points a game.
Even though New England's defense is improving, it's still not close to San Francisco's superior unit. Nonetheless, both teams are tough to score against—and that's all that really matters.
It's an Offensive League
Despite old mantras, the NFL has shifted dramatically over the last 10 years. Things are becoming much more offense-oriented—and it's tough to win in this league without an elite quarterback.
While San Francisco has the edge in the defense department, offense is New England's bread and butter.
The Pats have the best offense in the NFL, ranking first in yards (426) and points (36) per game. Both numbers lead the league.
The Patriots are led by arguably the best quarterback in football in Tom Brady, but they've also built a powerful rushing attack this season. That balance makes them all the more dangerous.
The 49ers are still working on finding their elite quarterback, but it hasn't been a huge issue this season. They're led by Frank Gore, whose hard-nosed approach has San Fran's rushing attack the second-best in football—averaging 162 yards per game.
And while Colin Kaepernick is no Tom Brady, he has improved the 49ers passing game. Since replacing Alex Smith, Kaepernick is 4-1 and averaging 257 all-purpose yards a game.
Just like with their defenses, these teams' offenses are on different levels. But they still find plenty of ways to put up points and win games.
Two Great Head Coaches
The backbone of any great team is a great coach, and these two teams have some of the best in the league.
Bill Belichick is one of the best the game has ever had, and his resume speaks for itself. He continues to do more with less on defense and could take his team to its second Super Bowl in a row.
Jim Harbaugh doesn't have quite the resume, but he's building it fast. In his first season with the Niners, Harbaugh led the team to 13-3 and the NFC Championship Game—despite a 6-10 finish in 2010.
In his second season with the team, Harbaugh has his squad in great position for another playoff push. His decision to replace Smith with Kaepernick midseason could be the move that puts San Francisco over the top.
These two masters of the game are sure to get their teams deep in the playoffs.
Every team has it's core, but no team is complete without a list of key role players.
New England exudes that, with a myriad of contributors on offense. Tom Brady can turn any receiver into a stud, and he has plenty of them to work with.
The Pats defense lacks superstars, but relies on a group of role players who together make a tough unit.
San Francisco's rushing attack is built around Frank Gore, but the 49ers can lean on Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James at a minute's notice. They lack a No. 1 receiver and instead rely on a slew of solid contributors.
The Niners have two of the game's best linebackers in Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. But they have also done a great job building around those two to make one of the NFL's toughest defensive units.
With a depth of complementary players, anyone can have a big game for these two teams.
Disapointing Ends to Last Season
San Francisco and New England win in their own ways, but you can still draw plenty of similarities. One of the most apparent is the disappointing ends to last season.
In a foul-weather thriller, the Niners inevitably lost to the New York Giants 20-17 in the NFC Championship Game. It wasn't be much later that the Pats faced a similar 21-17 Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
These are two storied franchises that are used to winning, and 2011 was far from ideal for both.
Some teams enter the season hoping for a winning record or a mere playoff berth. For others, anything outside of a championship is a disappointment.
San Francisco and New England belong to the latter thought of mind.
That's what makes them so dangerous in the playoffs, and why both will be so tough to beat down the stretch.