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49ers

vs.

Pats

Week 15

NFL Pick

12/16/12

Who will blink first? The Patriots, with their No.1 ranked offense, or the 49ers' top-ranked defense.
 
 San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be making his fifth start of the season. The 49ers have won three of Kaepernick four starts since Alex Smith went down with a concussion against St. Louis four weeks ago. San Francisco can win the NFC West on Sunday with a win and a Seattle loss.
 
 'It's a great opportunity to go out and show what we're capable of," said Kapernick.
 
 In leading the 49ers past Miami last weekend, Kaepernick completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards. He's completed 67 percent of his passes since assuming the starting role. The young quarterback showed off his running ability when he broke off a 50-yard run against the Dolphins.
 
 "There are definitely things that we're doing that tailor the offense to his skill set," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
 
 The Patriots offense revolves around quarterback Tom Brady. The perennial MVP QB has thrown for 29 touchdowns with only four interceptions this season. Last Monday night, he threw for 296 yards and four TDs in a 42-14 thrashing of the Texans (the Pats seventh straight win).
 
 "It needs to come together now," Brady said.
 
 The New England offensive line did a super job of keeping Brady clean during the Texan game. They face a completely new challenge in San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, who leads the NFL with 19 ½ sacks. The 49ers are the top-ranked defense (14 points per game), but the Patriots will counter that with the NFL's highest-scoring offense at a little over 36 points. Wide receiver Donte' Stallworth was placed on injured reserve this week. The team re-signed veteran Deion Branch. Tight end Aaron Hernandez has done well as a replacement for injured started Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez caught eight balls for 58 yards and scored twice against Houston. Running back Stevan Ridley has scored a touchdown in six consecutive games.
 
 As strong as the San Francisco defense is, they have given up an average of almost 91 yards a game on the ground. New England's defense has improved the last two weeks. San Francisco would love to get the ball to dangerous tight end Vernon Davis. His productivity has slipped the last few games. Running back Frank Gore has rushed for 1035 yards this season and always a threat to break off a long run.
 
 The 49ers can't afford a loss here with Seattle hot on their tails and up next on their dance card. But the Pats and Brady look to be on a mission (again). Pats -5

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