What 2 Watch 4, Patriots vs. 49ers: Week 15

After a statement win at home against Houston this past Monday, the Patriots have another tough task ahead of them as the defensive-minded San Francicsco 49ers come to Gillette for a primetime showdown on Sunday night. Without further ado, we will jump right into the key aspects to focus on in this Sunday’s game, with a few predictions as well.

1. They are who we thought they were? Heading into their Monday night clash with the Texans, the Patriots were 4-point favorites as many expected a close game throughout, with Houston’s defense having a high chance of shutting down New England’s high powered offense. Well, by halfway through the third quarter the Patriots were up 28-0 and the rout was on. Heading into this Sunday night, the conversation remains the same about New England’s opponent. Several options on offense, tough defense, have the potential to shut down the Patriots offense. Sunday we will be watching to see if the 49ers defense can do what the Texans failed to do, and that is slow down Tom Brady and his plethora of options on offense and get an "upset" win on the road.

Prediction: 49ers LB Aldon Smith will put pressure on Brady early and often to let him know that he’ll be there all game, but Tom will adjust and get the ball out quicker than usual. Expect lots of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez 8-10 yard slants to combat the pressure.

2. Belichick vs. Kaepernick. Heading into Sunday night’s contest there will certainly be lots of focus on 49ers second year (first starting) quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and deservedly so. But, what may not get as much attention is how Bill Belichick will throw several different defensive looks that Kaepernick has never seen before in his limited experience thus far. I can just picture the grin on Belichick’s face as he drew up the game plan for this Sunday night, knowing that a young QB is coming into Gillette to take on the mastermind. This will be a chess match to keep an eye on, as Kaepernick could be exposed for what he is; being a young, inexperienced starter in the NFL.

Prediction: Kaepernick will show signs of maturity by handling some of what Belichick throws at him, but expect at least one interception when he has to go to the air more than he would like.

3. Lloyd encore. Patriots veteran receiver Brnadon Lloyd hasn’t put together bask-to-back impressive performances since Week’s 2 and 3 of this season. His inconsistency has been a concern on an offense that has still been able to produce at a high level seemingly every week. Lloyd stepped up under pressure last week and delivered a much needed 89 receiving yards with a touchdown (two TD's if you count the recovered fumble in the endzone). Now, with Julian Edelman out for the season on IR and Rob Gronkowski still sitting due to his broken forearm, Lloyd needs to understand the importance of putting together another big effort on Sunday night.

Prediction: Lloyd goes for 60 receiving yards on 4 catches, no touchdowns. Brady attempts at least one deep pass to Lloyd, but fails to connect.

Game Prediction:

The last time the Patriots lost a home game in December was 2002. Yes, it’s been a decade since the Bill Belichick coached Patriots have lost a home game in the holiday-filled month of December. That being said, this will be the toughest challenge the Patriots have faced all season. The 49ers new-look offense will present challenges for New England, as there isn’t much of a book on how to stop Colin Kaepernick quite yet. Belichick will have Kaepernick on his toes a little more than usual with varying defensive schemes, but the youngster will still put together a solid overall effort.

I expect this to be a close game through the first three quarters with the Patriots taking a 10-point lead in the fourth and then holding on for a 27-24 victory over a tough San Francisco bunch.

Long-Shot Prediction: Danny Woodhead has two touchdowns in the game, one receiving and one rushing.

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