2012 NFL Picks: San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots Odds and Predictions – Week 15 Sunday Night Football Picks

2012 Week 15 NFL Picks: San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots Vegas Odds and Predictions – Free NFL Picks 12/16/2012: The playoffs don’t start for a few weeks, but Sunday night’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) and the New England Patriots (10-3) is a potential Super Bowl preview. Both teams were expected to be and have been among the best in the NFL since the start of the season, and anything less than a championship would be a disappointment for either side. The game is also a battle of a New England offense that leads the league in scoring and a San Francisco defense allowing the fewest points in the league. Playing in Foxboro and riding a seven-game winning streak, the Patriots are 4 ½-point favorites.

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The recipe for success has been simple for San Francisco. The 49ers pound the ball on the ground on offense and hit people in the mouth on defense, and they do both at an exceptional level. Running back Frank Gore leads the league’s second-best ground attack, and the scrambling ability of quarterback Colin Kaepernick has added a new dimension to a modest but efficient passing game. Defensively, San Francisco is allowing a league-low 14.2 points per game. They also rank second against both the run and the pass. Linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive tackle Justin Smith are among the stars of the unit that also features defensive end Aldon Smith, who is on pace to break the record for sacks in a single season.

Led by a surprisingly balanced attack, the New England offense is leading the NFL in points and yards per game. In fact, the Patriots’ 36.3 points per game average is a touchdown more than the next-closest team. Quarterback Tom Brady leads the fifth-ranked passing attack, and he has thrown 29 touchdowns to just four interceptions this season. Meanwhile, Stevan Ridley heads the eighth-best rushing attack, and he has 10 scores and has already topped 1,000 yards. The Patriots’ defense has been mediocre most of the year, but the unit has been opportunistic and improving. As a result, New England is actually leading the NFL in turnover differential and ranks in the top 10 against the run.

The 49ers Win If:

San Francisco isn’t going to win a shootout against many teams, especially against the offensive juggernaut that is New England. If the 49ers are going to go into to Foxboro and pull off an upset, they need to keep Brady and company on the sidelines as much as possible. Establishing Gore and the ground game will be crucial, and if San Francisco drastically wins the time-of-possession battle, it will limit the New England offense and allow its own defense to stay fresh. On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have to get physical with the Patriots. The only time Brady ever struggles is when he is facing a ton of pressure in the pocket and his receivers are getting jammed at the line, and San Francisco has the personnel to do both. Overall, the 49ers can win this game by controlling the clock and the line of scrimmage on both sides of the bll.

The Patriots Win If:

Points are the Patriots’ best friend in this matchup, and if New England’s offense comes out firing on all cylinders, the 49ers aren’t going to be able to keep up. Giving Brady time to throw will go a long way to a strong offensive showing, and if the New England offensive line wins the battle in the trenches, Brady has the weapons to carve up a stout San Francisco secondary. Defensively, nose tackle Vince Wilfork and the New England linebackers need to keep Gore and the 49ers’ ground attack in check. If the Patriots make San Francisco can’t control the clock and has to face a lot of third and longs, New England’s high-powered offense is going to eventually wear down the 49ers’ defense and put enough points on the board to pull away.

Bottom Line:

In many ways, this is a tough matchup for the 49ers. Yes, New England’s defense has been gashed at times this year, but the Patriots have given up most of their big plays through the air and have actually defended the run well. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s wants to run the ball as much as possible ad doesn’t have the explosive passing game needed to exploit the New England secondary. Granted, the 49ers’ defense can control just about any offense, but Brady and company are rolling right now. New England has scored at least 37 points in five of its last six games and has topped 40 points four times during the stretch. Combine New England’s solid rush defense with an offense that can pile up points on the ground and through the air, and there is only so much the 49ers’ defense is going to be able to do. The Patriots aren’t going to put 40-plus points on the board, but they aren’t going to get shut out either.

Prediction: New England Patriots (-4 ½) Cover the Spread

San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots
Line: New England Patriots -4.5
Total: Over/Under 47
Time: 8:30 PM EST on NBC

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