It’s a routine Patriots followers have become accustomed to. Each week, coach Bill Belichick explains how tough the upcoming opponent will be, regardless of its record. Belichick expressed just as much trepidation this week about facing the last-place San Francisco 49ers (1-8), as he did last week when preparing for the Seattle Seahawks, who are now 6-2-1 and in first place in the NFC West.
Despite the fact San Francisco is on an eight-game losing streak though, Belichick’s apprehension about facing the 49ers is understandable, given that Chip Kelly will be the coach on the opposite sideline.
Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles came into Gillette Stadium and came away with a 35-28 win. Kelly was the coach of the 4-7 Eagles that day, while the Patriots were 10-1. The loss would come back to haunt the Patriots as they squandered home-field advantage for the playoffs.
“Coach Kelly came down here with the Eagles and really they handled us pretty good, so we’re going to have to do a lot better job against their scheme and their attack on offense and special teams than we did in that game,” said Belichick.
Here’s a closer look at a team the Patriots have not faced since 2012.
■ After opening the season with a 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, the 49ers have lost eight in a row by an average of 15.5 points. Only two of those losses were by single digits, and five losses were by at least three scores.
However, the team might be coming off its best performance in that stretch, a 23-20 loss at Arizona. San Francisco tied the score at 20 with 1:55 remaining, but Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the Cardinals the win.
■ Quarterback Colin Kaepernick seems to be improving. He went 17 for 30 for 210 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 10 times for 55 yards and another score. He might be the only big name on the 49ers’ offense.
■ The Patriots and 49ers have three common opponents so far this season, with the 49ers having gone 0-4, losing to Arizona twice (last week, as well as 33-21 loss at home in Week 5). They also lost to Seattle, 37-18 in Week 3, and Buffalo, 45-16 in Week 6.
The Patriots, coming off last week’s loss to Seattle, are 2-2 against those same opponents, having split the series with Buffalo, and defeating Arizona, 23-21 on the road in Week 1.
■ There are a few names Patriots fans will recognize. San Francisco safety Antoine Bethea spent the first eight seasons of his career roaming the defensive backfield of the Indianapolis Colts. In seven games against the Patriots, Bethea has recorded three interceptions and 41 tackles.
Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is in his ninth season in the league, and fourth with the 49ers. After five seasons with Kansas City, Dorsey joined San Francisco in 2013, playing all 16 games, with 13 starts. He has battled injuries since, missing the entire 2014 season and playing just 10 games in 2015. This season, he’s appeared in six games, with one start.
Quinton Dial is in his fourth season in the league, all with San Francisco, patrolling the defensive line along with Dorsey. He started 15 games last season and all nine this year. Yet even with those behemoths up front, the 49ers rushing defense is ranked last in the league, so LeGarrette Blount and James White could get plenty of action, particularly if Rob Gronkowski is not making the trip west.
Sunday’s game would certainly appear to be a mismatch, but Belichick and the Patriots only need to look to last year’s game against the Eagles if they need a reminder about taking an opponent lightly.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney