For the second week in a row, the Patriots have an opportunity to polish their standing in the NFL on national TV with another marquee matchup.
The Patriots host the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 for only the second time the two team's will have played at Gillette Stadium and 12th time in the history of the two franchises, a series in which the 49ers lead 7-4.
The last time the two teams played each other was Oct. 5, 2008. Matt Cassel filled in for an injured Tom Brady as the Patriots won 31-21 at Candlestick Park.
Four years later, this 49ers team poses a much different threat under the helm of second-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers feature the league's leader in sacks in Aldon Smith (19.5), the second best defense in the NFL, and the second best running game (161.5 yards per game). The Patriots match up well, holding opponents to an eighth best low in yards per game rushing (100.8), sporting an offense that leads the league in scoring (36.3), and an offensive line that has allowed only 20 sacks on the quarterback.
San Francisco is coming off a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins in which second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick was 18 of 23 passing for 183 yards in his fourth start of the season. He took over for veteran Alex Smith after Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in Week 10. Kaepernick is getting his fifth start and this will be his sixth game with significant action. The University of Nevada product has a strong arm and can run the ball well. He broke off a 50-yard touchdown run, the longest in 49ers franchise history, against the Dolphins. The 49ers liked to run the option with Kaepernick even before he took over for Smith, subbing him in during five games early in the season for just that reason.
The Patriots offense, No. 1 in the NFL, will have to deal with a physical defense led by Pro Bowl players Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Dashon Goldson, representing a cross section of the unit's position groups. San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman is sixth in the NFL with 116 tackles. New England will have to do without tight end Rob Gronkowski for another week. He's still sidelined while rehabbing a broken forearm despite practicing this week.
The 49ers will be without wide receiver Mario Manningham, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury. Randy Moss, who played with the Patriots from 2007 to 2010 and scored 50 touchdowns with the team, will likely start in Manningham's place. Moss has been a nominal piece in the 49ers' run-heavy offense. He has caught 21 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, 49ers running back Frank Gore has caught 23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Gore leads the team with 1,035 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
Here are the details for today's game:
Kickoff: 8:20 p.m
Records: Patriots 10-3; 49ers 9-3-1.
TV/Radio info: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Dial Global Radio Sports (Dave Sims, James Lofton, Steve Tasker).
Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.
Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.
Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.
49ers offense: WR Michael Crabtree, LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin, RG Alex Boone, RT Anthony Davis, TE Vernon Davis, WR Randy Moss, FB Bruce Miller, RB Frank Gore, QB Colin Kaepernick.
49ers defense: DT Ray McDonald, NT Isaac Sopoaga, DT Justin Smith, OLB Ahmad Brooks, ILB NaVorro Bowman, ILB Patrick Willis, OLB Aldon Smith, LCB Carlos Rogers, RCB Tarell Brown, FS Dashon Goldson, SS Donte Whitner.
(more to come)
Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm).
49ers: WR Mario Manningham (shoulder)