Editor's note: This is part of a series on the Patriots scheduled opponents in the upcoming season. The following are questions that have been posed to the beat writers of each particular team. In this case, the San Francisco 49ers.
Five questions about the 49ers heading into training camp with Kevin Lynch, the beat writer from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Date: Dec. 16
Time: 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Location: Gillette Stadium
2011 record: 13-3, won NFC West.
Playoffs: Beat Saints 36-32 in divisional round; lost 20-17 (OT) to Giants in NFC Championship.
1. What is going to be the strength of this team?
Undoubtedly, defense, particularly the front 7.
2. Where are they looking to get better?
The passing game, where they were awful in the red zone and converting third downs.
3. Players on the spot?
Alex Smith now has offensive weapons with Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James. But can he consistently get the ball to these players?
Moss will also be on the spot. He's been highly dedicated in the off-season but will that continue if the Smith can't get him the ball?
OLB Aldon Smith on defense. He's transitioning from a third-down pass rusher to an every down player. Can the slender Smith hold up against the run?
4. What needs to happen for this team to win big?
The 49ers need to convert kicker David Akers' record-setting field goals into touchdowns.
5. Realistic expectations for this team at this point?
Final four, may be even final two.