Two of the most iconic and successful franchises in sports face off this Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers travel to Gillette Stadium to play the New England Patriots.
A wounded New England squad goes into this game following a disappointing defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos in Week 6. (Well, less 'the hands,' and more like the boot of Broncos kicker Brandon McManus.)
Bill Belichick's team (2-3) are in need of a morale-boosting win as they find themselves in the unfamiliar position of looking up at the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
It's a different story over in sunny San Francisco. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is back in the pocket for the 49ers, who looked much better during last week's victory over their NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers (3-3) will be hoping for a similar performance this Sunday as they bid to ascend the ranks in a division led by the still-unbeaten Seattle Seahawks. Last season's NFC champion currently occupies last place in the NFC West.
San Francisco 49ers vs New England Patriots Head-To-Head
Operating on opposite sides of the country and in different conferences, these two titans of the sport have only met on 13 previous occasions. The 49ers lead the all-time series 8-5.
New England did emerge victorious the last time these two met, defeating the 49ers 30-17 on the road. Tom Brady threw four touchdowns in that game, in which Colin Kaepernick was starting for the 49ers.
San Francisco 49ers season results: L W W L L W
New England Patriots season results: W L W L L
San Francisco 49ers vs New England Patriots Team News
The 49ers have a couple of concerns coming into this week's game.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander did not participate in Thursday's practice and is doubtful. Running back Raheem Mostert (ankle) made a solid return against the Rams last week but did not practice on Thursday and is once again listed as questionable.
Better news on the offensive line, though, as Trent Williams was able to return to practice late in the week.
Doubtful for 49ers: Kwon Alexander, Raheem Mostert
Running back James White is the most interesting story coming out of Patriots' camp. He was absent from practice on Wednesday and Thursday for 'non-injury-related reasons.' White quite rightly took a leave of absence earlier this season to mourn the death of his father. It's unclear if he will be available Sunday.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee) did practice but still isn't 100 percent. He's expected to play this week but hasn't looked himself so far this campaign.
Doubtful for Patriots: James White
San Francisco 49ers vs New England Patriots Projected Starters
San Francisco 49ers:
QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Raheem Mostert, Jerrick McKinnon
WR: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk
TE: George Kittle
New England Patriots:
QB: Cam Newton
RB: James White, Rex Burkhead
WR: Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry
TE: Ryan Izzo
San Francisco 49ers vs New England Patriots Prediction
49ers tight end George Kittle has been on a roll in recent games, and if he gets going and has another big game on Sunday, it could be tough for the Patriots to keep him out of the end zone. It has nothing to do with the reliable Patriots defense; more just that Kittle really is that good.
Receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel have really stepped up in recent weeks, too, and will be tough for any defensive coordinator to plan for due to their uncanny ability to pick up yards after contact. Both will need big games if the 49ers are to escape with the W.
James White's potential absence is a tough one for Belichick to deal with. White has been a real go-to guy for Patriots QB Cam Newton, particularly on short passing routes. The Patriots are going to need to eke out the hard yards through the air and their ability to do so is damaged if White isn't out there.
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This injury-hit 49ers defense is still one of the stingiest in the league (5th against the pass, 10th against the run), but the Patriots are ranked just slightly behind them in both categories. The teams have similar levels of offensive output, so it's tough to wedge a straw between these two sides defensively.
For my money, the 49ers offensive return has been limited by key injuries to the likes of "Jimmy G" and Mostert. I they they are better in this department than the stats suggest, and that we'll see a much more productive offense now that we enter the business end of the season and key players have returned from injuries.
Prediction: In a very tough game to call, the 49ers' superior offensive talent just about gives them the edge, even on the road. I predict a narrow win for San Francisco ... but I'm really not all that confident about this one as I haven't bet against the Patriots at home in my adult life.
Don't quote me.