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Patriots Preview: Week 11 @ 49ers

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After a tough loss on Sunday Night Football to the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots look to bounce back against another NFC West opponent in the San Francisco 49ers. New England and San Francisco will square for the first time in four years since Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers into Foxboro and handed the Patriots a rare home loss in 2012. Both teams have since then changed and both have gone in the complete opposite direction. The Patriots have been playing consistent football over the last four seasons including another Super Bowl title while the 49ers have changed head coaches and had numerous key players retire. Those players' absences have negatively affected the team and this team seems to be on the same road again this year.

New England finds themselves in unfamiliar territory right now as they are coming off of a loss and looking to get back on track. After they lost to Buffalo at home, they came back with a vengeance against the Cleveland Browns. They'll aim to do it again this week as they head to sunny California.

Here are three keys that should lead to a Patriots victory:

1.   Defense. Defense. Defense.

It is no mistake that the Patriots defense has not been playing up to expectations this year despite being ranked in the top 10 in points allowed (18.1). They have been giving up too many yards to actually believe this could be a Super Bowl-winning defense. Opposing offenses have gained 360 yards (260 through the air and 100 on the ground) against this team. The Patriots must be able to get significant pressure on the quarterback and that is where Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers and company come in. The lack of pressure has also affected the secondary as they have been giving up way too many yards and easy touchdowns (evident last week against Seattle).

2.   Who will step up in place of Rob Gronkowski?

Gronkowski will be inactive against the 49ers after the hit safety Earl Thomas laid him out with last week. Even though he only has 25 receptions and three touchdowns so far this year, he has been Tom Brady’s favorite target when it comes to third down territory and red zone situations. With him out, Julian Edelman needs to get it together as he has not been playing up to expectations either. A costly fumble last week against Seattle certainly didn’t help matters. Chris Hogan has been a nice addition to the staff as well as Martellus Bennett who will most likely take Gronkowski’s share of the offensive load. Dion Lewis could make a return to the lineup this week as well to go along with James White and LeGarrette Blount in the backfield.

3.   Dance with who brought you here.

This is an old saying that speaks volumes to the Patriots team. Each week they have been executing a game plan to perfection. Sometimes, however, there are some plays that you wonder “what are they thinking?” Last week was a good example because there were a few questionable calls during the last minutes of the game when the Patriots had a chance to score a touchdown. Instead of letting Blount punch it in from one yard out, they tried to sneak with Brady then try to get the ball to Gronkowski with Kam Chancellor guarding him. All season New England has been effective running the football, short passes, efficient third down plays and scoring within the red zone. If they keep that routine going and do not try to out think themselves like other teams do against them, then there should be no messing with that formula.

I fully expect the Patriots to come out firing on all cylinders. They came up short last week and usually after a loss they bounce back in an effective way. This is going to be the first time Tom Brady plays in the stadium of his childhood team but hopefully he will hold back the emotions. The 49ers defense ranks last in points, rushing yards and total yards allowed. Look for New England to effectively use Blount, White and perhaps Lewis to capitalize on a struggling 49ers run defense.

Prediction: Patriots 38, 49ers 17.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @TheReal_MPerry

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