Welcome to the 14th installment of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday at noonish. The 10-3 Patriots, coming off a 42-14 Monday night throttling of the AFC top-seed-for-the-moment Houston Texans, face their second elite opponent in six days when they take on
John Brodie Steve DeBerg Joe Montana Steve Young Jim Druckenmiller That Goat Farmer Guy Picked Ahead of Brady Alex Smith Colin Kaepernick and the hard-hitting 9-3-1 Niners. Let's get to the details.
THREE PLAYERS I'LL BE WATCHING OTHER THAN THE UNDERRATED TOM BRADY
Aldon Smith: The Niners' freakishly talented second-year end has 19.5 sacks, including a record 5.5 in one game against the Bears. He needs three in the final three games to tie Michael Strahan's single-season Favre-assisted NFL record, and if the Patriots can limit him to one, that would have to be considered a victory. Wanna feel old? He was born nine months and three days after Joe Montana, John Taylor and the Niners beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.
Wes Welker: No, he didn't have his best game against the Texans, with a couple of drops among his three catches for 52 yards. But chances are he will be essential against the Niners' ferocious pass-rush, and a more typical 10-catch, 100-yard performance is probable.
Colin Kaepernick: Since taking over for Alex Smith during the Week 11 tie with the Rams, the strong-armed and swift second-year quarterback has completed 67 percent of his passes. A week ago, his 50-yard scoring run was the key play in the win over the Dolphins. And though he just recently began accruing playing time, he has a higher quarterback ranking than the likes of Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Andy Dalton. While the Patriots may well puzzle him and solve the Pistol, it's safe to presume that Kaepernick presents much more of a challenge than the marginal game-manager Smith.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD, A.K.A. YEAH, BUT ABOUT THAT REPUTED GOAT FARMER PICKED AHEAD OF BRADY
There's no chance Brady requires a reminder, of course, even after all that he's accomplished. But just for the sport of it, here again is the "Brady 6" -- the half-dozen quarterbacks chosen ahead of him in the 2000 NFL Draft: Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, Chris Redman, Spergon Wynn, Chad Pennington, and Giovanni Carmazzi, who went to Brady's beloved Niners in the third round and never threw an NFL regular-season pass.
If you don't want to click on the Carmazzi portion of the "Brady 6" in the above clip, here are the two most relevant sentences.
"He lives two hours north of San Francisco, and describes himself as as a yoga-exercising farmer. [Pause for a close-up of a goat.] He has five goats."
His linkedin page, however, suggests a more mainstream existence. Also, there is no mention of his current goat count.
THE RETURN OF RANDY MOSS
Sometimes Moss's ridiculous 2007 -- in which he had a record 23 touchdown receptions and was 2 minutes away from being able to say he scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl -- feels like just a few calendars' worth of Sundays ago. Other times, he feels like closer to a decade than just five years -- it feels like such a fundamentally different offensive era it's easy to overlook that for at least a couple of games he was teammates with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. After spending last year out of football, he's found and apparently accepted his niche at age 35 as a role player (21 receptions) for the Niners. The respect is genuine and mutual between him and Bill Belichick, but I wouldn't put it past him to pull off one extraordinary and long touchdown reception Sunday, a flashback to some pretty good times.
WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE INEVITABLE FOOTAGE OF JOHN HARBAUGH ON "PARKER LEWIS CAN'T LOSE" TO EMERGE ... This clip, unearthed by Doug Farrar at Yahoo!'s tremendous Shutdown Corner blog, of current Niners coach and then-Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh appearing on "Saved By The Bell" is an entire wheel of early '90s cheese. Kudos to Harbaugh, though -- he sold his role as Screech's good-hearted football-playing cousin pretty well considering he looks -- and still acts -- like the kind of guy who in high school would have bounced Screech off a couple of lockers just because he could. Slater totally would have put him in his place, though.
IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY, YOU CAN SEE THE FUTURE AT AGE 4 1/2
This, from Greg Garber's January 2008 feature on Tom Brady for ESPN.com:
On the day Joe Montana threw the pass that became "The Catch," Brady was in the stands at Candlestick Park. He was 4½ years old, and he cried through most of the first half because his dad wouldn't buy him a foam "No. 1" finger. The Bradys had season tickets to the 49ers games, and little Tom always wore his Montana jersey.
OK, admit it -- at least once, you've looked at this footage, maybe searched for a ticked-off kid in a No. 16 jersey, and wondered where he was sitting, haven't you?
PREDICTION, OR 'IS THIS THE WEEK THIS NITWIT FINALLY PICKS AGAINST THE PATRIOTS? No. But almost. How can you not have enormous respect for this 49ers team, particularly the defense, which features not only the aforementioned Aldon Smith, but also the fierce Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman ... the pure talent and tireless energy of the entire group is enviable, and to notice that they are second in the league in total defense is to wonder how they're not ahead of Pittsburgh. Their matchup with the Patriots' No. 1-ranked offense is the definition of a clash,, and there may be another level of intrigue if Rob Gronkowski returns from his broken forearm. In a sense, my pick comes down to believing that the Patriots' improving defense, which has forced 34 turnovers and has everyone in the proper place after the acquisition of Aqib Talib, forces young Kaepernick into the kind of costly mistakes that his counterpart won't make. It's perhaps a Super Bowl preview, and undoubtedly the Patriots' toughest test yet. Behind Brady, they'll pass. Patriots 31, Niners 21.
Previous game's prediction: Patriots 41, Texans 27. Final score: Patriots 42, Texans 14. Season record: 10-3.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.