NFL Picks Week 15: Sunday Night Football – San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots

Weather:  30’s with rain and/or snow. Brrrrr.

Injuries:

San Francisco – WR Mario Manningham will not play. More Randy Moss in the game plan.

New England – Is there anything more useless than a Patriots injury list? I just know that one day there will be a player who is “questionable” with a hang nail—who will then proceed to make the play of the game the following Sunday. The only listings of note are Wes Welker’s sore ankle, the multiple O-line nagging injuries and whether or not Rob Gronkowski will return for Sunday night (probably not).

Keys to the Game:

Does anyone in the NFL world remember that Alex Smith won a playoff game last year with his legs? While not arguing Colin Kaepernick’s more explosive option abilities, one would think that Smith had been absolutely Drew Bledsoe-esque! Kaepernick is certainly better at finding Randy Moss, who had two grabs for 30 yards. No. 7 put up decent young-QB numbers (18-0f-23 for 185 yards), but “Frank Gore Express” is the name of this playoff-bound train. No. 21 hit 1,000 yards for the sixth time on just 12 carries. Rookie LaMichael James has jumped into the No. 2 RB slot and acquitted himself quite nicely in his first NFL action, whereupon the team suspended disgruntled Brandon Jacobs. The Niners boast the second-ranked rushing attack with 161.5 yards per game.

Defensively, Aldon Smith is proving that his standout rookie campaign was no aberration. The sophomore DE has 19.5 sacks thus far. Yes, that’s a Niners record. The San Francisco D also held Reggie Bush to 65 yards and made Ryan Tannehill look like, well, a rookie quarterback.

Speculation that the Patriots will have a letdown after steam-rolling Houston Monday night is something upon which Jim Harbaugh will not depend. Given that New England has all the personality of an assembly line, they will probably just keep marching relentlessly forward in their quest for post-season home-field advantage. If there is anyone who underestimates Tom Brady, have them ponder whether another QB could throw for less than 300 yards — and score four times. Brady may have two speeds (monotonous and angry), but he has always been a legitimate MVP contender. To say that the patchwork Houston secondary was no match for him is tantamount to saying that Boston harbour has a bit of boat traffic.

The Pats defense punched Matt Schaub and the Texans offense in the face early and Houston played the rest of the game as if literally dazed. RB Arian Foster, the one spark of life, was held to 46 rushing yards.

On the other side of the pigskin, Harbaugh has infused his team with toughness and Frank Gore will “bring it” to the Pats D. You want contact? Gore will be happy to oblige. The D-line will take on the challenge and you know that the Smiths (both Aldon and Justin) salivate at the thought of a Brady sack.

Prediction: New England by a touchdown.

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