San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (10-3 SU, 8-4-1 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 16, 8:30 p.m. EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
by Vesper Abadon, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: SF +5.5/NE -5.5
Over/Under Total: 48.5
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Could this week’s Sunday Night Football game be a preview of the Super Bowl? There’s a good chance it could be as both the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, who’re 10-3 and 9-3-1 respectively, are bound for the Playoffs. The Pats have already clinched the AFC East, while the 49ers are favorites in the NFC East; as such, this Sunday’s matchup could have home field and/or bye implications.
Another thing that makes this game so exciting is that the 49ers will be bringing the second-best defense in the league, holding opponents to just 275.5 yards per game (YPG), to try and stop the Pats’ #1 offense, who average 425.7 total YPG. What’s more, both teams have momentum as Tom Brady and company are coming off a 42-14 win against the Houston Texans, who were supposed to be the AFC powerhouses; while the 49ers took care off business at home last week with a 27-13 win against the Miami Dolphins.
Speaking of Brady, he is currently tied with Robert Griffin III for having the best quarterback rating in the league-104.2. That comes from going 319 of 495 (64.4% completion rate) for 3,833 yards, 29 touchdowns, and only four interceptions, which gives the Pats the 5th-best passing game in the league averaging 285.8 YPG. Nearly a third of those passes have went to wide receiver Wes Welker, who has 95 receptions for 1,116 yards (11.7 Avg) and four touchdowns. The other man hauling in passes has ben Rob Gronkowski (53 receptions for 748 yards and ten touchdowns), but he won’t be a factor against the 49ers as he’s been sidelined by injury.
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Even more surprising is that the Patriots, who’ve struggled to get anything going on the ground over the past decade, have the 7th-best rushing offense, averaging 139.9 YPG. That’s because second-year back Stevan Ridley has been running well, carrying 243 times for 1,082 yards (4.5 Avg) and ten touchdowns; what’s more, he has six catches out of the backfield for 51 yards (8.5 Avg).
If the Patriots lack in any area, it’s on defense as they’re ranked a lowly 26th in the league after allowing an average of 376.3 YPG.
Obviously the 49ers have the better defense in this match, but the Pats have the superior passing game. That because the 49ers, who’re ranked 26th in the league with an average of 198.5 YPG, have to rely upon the developing Colin Kaepernick, who had went 87 of 129 for 1,073 yards and three touchdowns since getting the start over Alex Smith a few weeks back. Kaepernick has big-play potential with a big arm and long legs, but he’s still experiencing growing pains as he continues to connect with wide receiver Michael Crabtree (66 receptions for 761 yards and five touchdowns) and tight end Vernon Davis (38 receptions for 506 yards and five touchdowns).
With all of that said, the 49ers do have one heck of a run game-second in the NFL in fact. Eight-year veteran Frank Gore has been a workhorse this season, carrying 211 times for 1,035 yards (4.9 Avg) and seven touchdowns; furthermore, he has 23 catches out of the backfield for 179 yards (7.8 Avg) and a single score.
Vesper Abadon’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The two teams don’t meet often; in fact, the last time they did was back in October of 2008 when the Pats won 30-21; however, the 49ers are a much different team than they were back then. Coach Jim Harbaugh has quickly turned the team around and has established them as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Even so, I think the Patriots are hungry for a first-round bye and home-field advantage after their big win against the Texans, who they beat at home. They don’t have to travel for the second week in a row, which gives them a lot of time to prepare; on the contrary, the 49ers have to travel across the country and play in the cold. The entire scenario gives the Pats a huge advantage.
Even though the Pats, who now sit atop most NFL Power Rankings, allow a lot of yards through the air, their front seven is only allowing an average of 100.8 rushing yards per game. I expect they’ll hold Gore in check and force Kaepernick into a shootout with Brady. That’s a no contest in my opinion. I think the Pats win this game, and I think they do it by a touchdown or more.
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