Patriots-49ers preview: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

This is a game circled on people’s calendars for quite some time — Jimmy Garoppolo’s return to New England and facing the Patriots for the first time since the 2017 trade.

Garoppolo and the 49ers are coming off their most impressive win of the year — 24-16 last Sunday night over the Rams -- while the Patriots have lost two straight games and played arguably their worst game of the year last week when they fell to the Broncos, 18-12. It is worth noting the Patriots only had one practice the week of the game because of COVID-19.

It is a different story this week as the Patriots had a full week of practice and got most of their players back from the COVID list, as well as two players back off injured reserve.

Sitting at 2-3, this is a very important game for the Patriots, especially with a game against the AFC East-leading Bills next week.

49ers vs. Patriots
Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020
Patriots -2, over/under 44.5
4:25 p.m., CBS

3 keys to the game

Get the passing game going

It’s no secret the Patriots passing game has been pretty much nonexistent since the Week 2 game in Seattle. Last week, Cam Newton threw for just 157 yards in the air and the Patriots’ two best receivers — Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry — combined for two catches on eight targets for eight yards. That needs to change. The Patriots currently rank 26th in passing offense and second in rushing offense, so it’s pretty clear Kyle Shanahan and Co. will do what they can to force Newton to throw the ball as much as possible.

Stop the run no matter who is carrying the ball

The 49ers rely a great deal on the running game, but in a variety of ways. It isn’t just handing the ball off and having their running backs run in between the tackles. They run a ton of jet-sweeps and use a lot of pre-snap motion. With Raheem Mostert out, look for the 49ers to do this even more and have some designed runs for their speedy players like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. They come into the game 11th in rushing, while the Patriots are 16th in defending the run. This will be a big game for the Patriots’ front-seven.

Win turnover battle

It’s very simple, but this is very important this week, especially considering how many turnovers the Patriots have had this year. New England has seven in its last two games and they have not had a game this year without a turnover. Meanwhile, the 49ers have played three turnover free games and won two of them. Defensively, they have six on the year, but just two in their last three weeks. For both quarterbacks it will likely be the difference in the game, especially early on. Keep an eye on how both players start the game.

Fun Facts

1. Garoppolo (.767) trails only Patrick Mahomes (.784) and Tom Brady (.772) in career winning percentage among 212 quarterbacks with 30-plus starts since 1970.

2. No team that has started 2-4 has made the Super Bowl. Furthermore, since 1990, just 9.5 percent of teams that started 2-4 have made the playoffs (19 of 201).

3. Edelman has fewer than three catches in three straight games for the first time since 2013.

4. With 88 passing yards Sunday, Newton will eclipse the 30,000 career yards mark and become the first player in NFL history to pass for 30,000 yards and rush for 5,000 yards.

5. Garoppolo’s longest pass completed this year is 19 yards in the air.

Prediction

49ers 24, Patriots 20

This should be a good game from start to finish, but in the end the 49ers have more playmakers than the Patriots. Expect Shanahan and Co. to really limit the Patriots’ rushing attack and if that happens the Patriots offense could struggle a bit. If Garoppolo takes care of the ball, the 49ers have a very good chance of winning the game. This one really will come down to which quarterback has the better day.