New England Patriots
BY JACOB STIENBERG
One constant theme throughout the last two decades of the NFL has been the New England Patriots being a Super Bowl-caliber team every year. Nearly 20 years after the beginning of their dynasty, this year is no different.
The Patriots are sitting atop the AFC with a 7-0 record, marking their best start since 2015. Its defense is the best in the league, ranking first in DVOA, points allowed per game and second in yards per game.
The Patriots defense forced five turnovers against the New York Jets on Monday night and held Sam Darnold to 86 passing yards and a 3.7 total passer rating. Generally, the Patriots defense tends to be overshadowed by its consistent offense. This year, the defense is playing at a higher level than the always solid offense. The special teams unit has scored 2.0 points per game on average.
Quarterback Tom Brady is 42 years old and still playing at an extraordinarily high level. However, Brady at times is going to look and play like he’s 42. That is what we have seen over the last two weeks. Since the Patriots have the league’s best defense, Brady does not have to be spectacular for them to win every game. With the edition of Mohammad Sanu the offense will be more intimidating each week from here on out.
Larry is correct that the 49ers play in a competitive NFC West division that is one of the best in football. However, it is still uncertain whether the 49ers can win big games consistently. Despite defeating the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams in week six, the Rams are the only team the 49ers have played against that currently have a winning record.
We also don’t know if Jimmy Garoppolo is good enough to carry the team to the next level. Garoppolo has mostly been a game manager at this point and a game manager won’t win crucial games against elite teams in the NFC.
The Patriots are known to win games against any team on any stage. They are well coached and prepared every week and execute every game plan to perfection. With a dominant defense and experience playing on the biggest stage, the Patriots are the team to beat this season, per usual.
San Francisco 49ers
BY LARRY LARSON
Without a doubt, the San Francisco 49ers are the NFL’s biggest surprise contender this season.
After winning their first two games versus Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, the Niners put the league on notice after a blowout of Cleveland in week five and a strong victory over the defending NFC champion Rams in week six.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad has a promising remaining 2019 slate and there could certainly be a scenario where San Francisco locks up a coveted first-round playoff bye.
The key to the 49ers success has been their defense. Following their 9-0 victory on Sunday over the Redskins, the defense has surrendered just 10.7 points per game, good for second in the league (behind New England).
The pass rush, led by rookie Nick Bosa, has been scary. The secondary, led by veteran corner Richard Sherman, has stifled opposing QBs, allowing just over 133 passing yards per game. In fact, the defensive unit as a whole has allowed the fewest total yards per game of any NFL team, surrendering just 223.
The Niners’ rushing attack has been the x-factor on offense. Featured running backs Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman have led San Francisco to the second-most rush yards in the league through seven weeks.
The scariest part of the 49ers’ offense, however, might be what we haven’t yet seen: great performances from starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
The former backup to Tom Brady is averaging 219 passing yards a game, tossing seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He hasn’t been terrible, but he certainly hasn’t played to his full potential. Should the Eastern Illinois product pick it up, San Fran’s offense could be extremely dangerous, especially following the edition of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
While the 49ers’ schedule hasn’t been very strong, it’s been better than the Patriots’. New England plays in a very weak AFC East. The 49ers play in a much stronger NFC West, that will battle-test them for big games down the road.
The 49ers staunch defense and strong ground attack will prevail in their tough games down the stretch, and will end the season with a better result than the New England Patriots.