California, sports capital of the world.
Well, OK, our little world at least. Not only do we have the Red Sox and Angels going at it in the ALDS this weekend, shifting back to Boston on Sunday, the Patriots’ charter will probably pass the Red Sox in the air sometime early Saturday morning for their own California adventure. Ten days, two games, San Francisco to San Diego. Do take Highway 1, won’t you?
Mix into that the pleasure/angst of Red Sox fans watching Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers slug (yes, slug) their way to a 2-0 series lead over the Cubs, keeping an open collision course for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series. The Lakers are gearing up for their season opener in a few, short weeks, just months after being manhandled by the Celtics in the NBA Finals. Sonny McLean's, busy 24/7.
For the Patriots, it’s a west coast trip filled with potential redemption, two weeks after being unceremoniously slapped around by the Miami Dolphins before a sellout crowd that got more of the blame from the local media than Bill Belichick’s inept game plan. On the bright side though, Ronnie Brown threw five fewer touchdowns than Brett Favre did last Sunday against Arizona. Way to keep him in check.
Of course, that all has Niners running back Frank Gore drooling, hoping he can bust out in a repeat performance of Brown’s enormous day. That’s a dangerous prospect. So is having Mike Martz as your offensive coordinator. Now, we’re not saying that Martz is a bit of a dimwit, but he does strike us as the kind of guy who watched the direct-snap business against the Patriots two weeks ago, started panting furiously, and inserted every direct snap play he could think of into the game plan this week. Which, I’m sure Belichick won’t expect at all. Well, this time, at least.
By the way, Tom Brady and Alex Rodriguez? I’m not really sure where to go with this.
Who they're picking
Our roundup of pundit picks for this week's Patriots-49ers showdown:
- Jim McCabe, Boston Globe: Patriots. “The 49ers' quarterback, J.T. O'Sullivan, has been sacked 19 times in four games. So that's what the initials stand for – ‘Just Tuck.’”
- Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 20, 49ers 16. “Most compelling game of the weekend. The 13-day rehab of Matt Cassel will be in full view, and my take is that the Patriots will have figured out a way to make him succeed -- and not just by having him throw safe passes. I think they'll have him throw it deep to Randy Moss three or four times and basically say to their own team and the other 31 in the league that they're not going to play the rest of the season by trying to hide Cassel.”
- Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: 49ers 20, Patriots 17. “The Patriots have had two weeks to stew over their loss to the Dolphins. You know Bill Belichick will have them focused here. The problem is that they can't pass it well enough anymore. San Francisco will take advantage of that. Upset.”
- CBS Sports staff: Four of six pick the Patriots to cover.
- Cold, Hard, Football Facts: Patriots 27, 49ers 17. “The Patriots have had two weeks to lick their wounds after a troubling home loss to Miami. The 49ers are likewise coming off a one-sided defeat. New England has never won in San Francisco (0-4), but an embarrassed defense that still ranks fourth in Bendability could rectify that."
- Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 27, 49ers 17. “Speaking of desperation, that word usually doesn't cross the mind of Bill Belichick's Patriots. Instead, it usually refers to what their opponents feel. But with Matt Cassel still not finding his groove with Tom Brady down and the defense coming off a terrible performance, the Pats desperately needed a bye week to regroup and plot how to save their season. They're still 2-1, so no reason to panic yet -- unless they drop a game to an average NFC team such as the Niners. Expect Cassel to be crisper in getting the ball to his playmakers, the Pats to run the ball better and deliver big defensive plays when San Fran gets into Air Martz comeback mode.”
- USA Today staff: Patriots across the board.
- Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 38, 49ers 13. “New England plays San Diego next. Note to Pats: You're not good enough anymore to look past anybody, including the Niners. After an embarrassing loss to Miami and coming off a bye, NE is primed for a big showing, a statement game. Goldminers can't protect J.T. O'Sullivan, and he'll be crushed.”
- King Kaufman, Salon.com: 49ers. “Never mind Cubs fans booing Ryan Dempster. How about Patriots fans booing their team as they left the field at halftime two weeks ago, trailing Miami 21-6. The Patriots had won 21 straight regular-season games, 28 of 31 games overall including playoffs, and they hadn't lost at home since Nov. 12, 2006. Then they fell behind in the first half of one game, without their star quarterback. And the fans booed 'em. Pats fans have pulled into first place in the Most Obnoxiously Entitled Fans in Sports sweepstakes.”
- Yahoo! staff: Patriots across the board.
- Peter Schrager, FOXSports.com: Patriots 21, 49ers 16. “Which Patriots squad will we see on Sunday? After a bye week, they should at least have something they didn't against the Dolphins in Week 3: an offensive game plan.”
- Nancy Gay, San Francisco Chronicle: Patriots. “Bad news: Manny Lawson is out with a hamstring injury. Not to mention the Patriots were humiliated in their loss to the Dolphins and are extremely motivated.”
- T-Bone: Patriots.
- Our pick: Patriots 14, 49ers 10. At this point we don’t have a clue what to expect from the New England offense. But that defense was so thoroughly humiliated against Miami, that you can smell a big-time rebound on deck.