Week 12 of the 2019 NFL season ended a lot like just about every other week this season has, with both the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers in the win column. The Patriots picked up a 13-9 win at home against the Dallas Cowboys in the afternoon while the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 37-8 in primetime on Sunday Night Football. With these victories, the Patriots and 49ers both moved to 10-1 on the season and are leading the pack in the AFC and NFC, respectively.
Are these two conference leaders heading for an inevitable showdown in the Super Bowl? That may depend on how the next few weeks play out.
New England and San Francisco have the two best defenses in the NFL
Former Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said that “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” The ‘defense wins championships’ part of this quote has become a familiar adage in sports, and while it isn’t always true, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an elite defense.
The Patriots and 49ers certainly have that. New England’s impressive shutdown performance against the Cowboys on Sunday was just another game on a long list of such dominant showings this season. The Patriots have the best scoring defense in the NFL, allowing a microscopic 10.6 points per game and rank second in the league in yards per game surrendered allowing 256.4 per game. New England’s defense also leads the league in takeaways with 29.
San Francisco’s defense held Aaron Rodgers to just 104 passing yards on Sunday night. The 49ers have allowed fewer yards than any team in the NFL with 248 yards per game against and rank second in the league behind the Patriots in scoring defense with 14.8 points per game against.
The next two weeks will be a huge test for these two contenders
The New England Patriots have bounced back nicely from their loss to the Baltimore Ravens with back-to-back wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, but question marks remain on offense. New England is averaging only 16.7 points per game over the team’s last three games, and Tom Brady has thrown only two touchdown passes over those three weeks.
The Patriots’ defense has carried the team despite the lack of offensive output, but the offense is likely going to need to chip in over the next two weeks if New England hopes to keep winning. A road game against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans looms in Week 13, and that will be followed by a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game when the Patriots host Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers have passed the eye test with flying colors this season despite the fact that they’ve had an extremely soft schedule to date. This blowout win over the 8-2 Green Bay Packers helps solidify their status as a legitimate contender, but it will be the next two weeks that truly tell the story. San Francisco has a brutal stretch of back-to-back road games against the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, arguably the second-best teams in their respective conferences. The 49ers haven’t faced a road team with a record over .500 yet this season.
Other teams in the mix
The aforementioned Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints are both serious threats to win the Super Bowl this season. As are the Seattle Seahawks, who improved to 9-2 with a dominant defensive performance in a 17-9 road win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Home field advantage is going to make a massive difference this postseason. San Francisco and Seattle are both elite teams, but only one will win the NFC West; the other will be relegated to a wild card spot. And with Baltimore holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England, a potential AFC Championship Game between the two teams would be played in Baltimore should the two teams finish the regular season with the same record.
The 49ers and Patriots have an inside track at the top seed in the NFC and AFC, but there are plenty of roadblocks ahead and plenty of teams ready to pounce if they slip up. Things are going to get very interesting this December.