8:20 PM ET, December 16, 2012
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Brady leads the Patriots' top-ranked offense on Sunday night when they host Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 scoring defense in a battle of division leaders.
New England (10-3), which will try for its 14th straight win in December and 21st straight at home during the month, has already won the AFC East title and trails Houston by one game for the conference's top seed.
San Francisco (9-3-1) can win the NFC West on Sunday with a win and a Seattle loss to Buffalo.
"It's a great opportunity to go out and show what we're capable of," Kaepernick said. "They're going to give you a lot of different looks on defense. You just have to be ready for it."
While New England went 11-3 in 2001 after Brady replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2, the 49ers have won three of Kaepernick's four starts since Alex Smith suffered a concussion against St. Louis on Nov. 11.
Kaepernick was 18 of 23 for 185 yards in a 27-13 win over Miami on Sunday. He's completed 67.4 percent of his passes as a starter and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt.
Kaepernick showed off his running ability with a late 50-yard touchdown to seal the victory over the Dolphins. He's already third among NFL quarterbacks with 351 yards on the ground -- 7.6 per carry -- and five rushing touchdowns.
"There are definitely things that we're doing that tailor the offense to his skill set," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
The Patriots have done plenty to tailor their prolific offense around Brady. A week after throwing just one touchdown pass as New England clinched the East in Miami, the two-time MVP threw for 296 yards and a season high-tying four TDs in a 42-14 rout of the Texans on Monday night.
Brady has thrown for 29 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season, including 19 with only one pick during the team's seven-game winning streak.
"It needs to come together now," Brady said. "This is the perfect time for it. We can't wait any longer."
After holding the Texans' imposing front seven to just one sack and keeping AFC sack leader J.J. Watt off the board, the Patriots face a San Francisco defense that features linebacker Aldon Smith, who has an NFL-high 19 1/2 sacks and is three shy of tying Michael Strahan's single-season record.
The 49ers lead the NFL in scoring defense (14.2 points per game), but the Patriots have the NFL's highest-scoring offense (36.3) and have put up 42 or more points in four of their past six games.
As a result, the team re-signed Deion Branch for the second time this season.
Stevan Ridley will try to continue to give the Patriots a solid option in the running game after scoring a touchdown in six consecutive contests.
The 49ers, though, have given up just three rushing scores -- tied for the league lead. They're also tied for second in rushing defense at 90.8 yards per game.
"We're going to be able to see where we are as a defense," safety Donte Whitner said. "We understand who's going to have to win that football game, and we think it's going to be the defense."
The Patriots' defense has improved the past two weeks, allowing an average of 300.0 yards after yielding 390.2 yards per game through their first 11 contests.
The 49ers would love to get star tight end Vernon Davis more involved after he's totaled three catches for 19 yards in the last three games.
San Francisco, though, doesn't figure to shy away from its versatile running game. Behind 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore, the 49ers rank second in the league at 161.5 yards per game.
They'll want to wear down the Patriots, who rank eighth against the run (100.8) after holding Houston's Arian Foster to 46 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
"We know we're a good defense here," Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. "We know we've played really well the last couple of weeks and the biggest focus for us is just trying to build on that."
New England looks for its fourth straight victory against San Francisco, winning the last meeting 30-21 with Matt Cassel under center on Oct. 5, 2008.
More from ESPN.com
Judge to NFL, union: Try to settle differences
A U.S. District Court judge on Thursday ordered the NFL and NFL Players Association to try to resolve their differences over Tom Brady's suspension without litigation.
49ers-Patriots: What to watch
After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the Week 15 49ers-Patriots matchup.
• Pound the rock: Look for San Francisco to stress its power running game on the road. The 49ers will look to set the physical tone with a running game that is very difficult to prepare for because it uses so many personnel groupings, formations and run calls. The 49ers also probably have the best run-blocking offensive line in football. To be successful running between the tackles, the 49ers will have to move Vince Wilfork, which is easier said than done. Wilfork was dominant Monday night against Houston. The Patriots also feature a heavy group of downhill linebackers who excel at stopping the interior run. But San Francisco will combat that with extra offensive linemen and a wide array of heavy sets. Led by Frank Gore, but also getting LaMichael James involved for the first time this season, the Niners racked up 155 rushing yards against a very good Dolphins run defense in Week 14.
Recent Blog Posts
San Francisco 49ers
- #TBT to when the 49ers and Raiders had a July exhibition game
- Can Kaepernick thrive in San Francisco?
- Are Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush elixir to 49ers' sluggish offense?
New England Patriots
|Avg Points Allowed||15.6||22.5|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SF|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SF|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 2-1|
|Oct 5, 2008||SF 21, NE 30|
|Jan 2, 2005||SF 7, @NE 21|
The Patriots have sent five or more pass rushers twice as often since the team acquired Aqib Talib. The Patriots have held opponents to Total QBRs under 10.0 in three of the four games with Talib using such pressure (0 games before acquiring Talib).[+]
Patriots Defense Sending 5+ Pass Rushers - This Season
The 49ers and Patriots have been two of the most sure-tackling teams this season, limiting opponents to a little over a yard per rush after contact. The Patriots run game might struggle more in Week 15, as they've averaged 1.4 yards per rush after contact this season, tied for third worst in the NFL.[+]
Fewest Yards per Rush Allowed After Contact - This Season
The 49ers have had more big plays in the passing game with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback this season, with one more 30-plus yard pass play in 88 fewer attempts. However, the 49ers have scored their points on the ground with Kaepernick.[+]
49ers Offense by Quarterback - This Season
The 49ers and Patriots have played 6 common opponents. San Fran has outscored those teams by 16.4 points per game. That's more than 3 points better than New England against those same teams.
ESPN Stats & Information