The New Orleans Saints head west to face the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game on Saturday. Other than the Packers, this is the class of the NFC, with these teams a combined 27-6. For bettors, these two teams have been awfully profitable, only failing to cover 7 times in 33 combined chances. With each team playing with a honed edge and heightened sense of purpose, this game could be the crown jewel of this postseason.
N.O. beat Detroit badly last Saturday in the first round of the playoffs, with the 49ers getting the week off as the NFC #2 seed. The score of 45-28 suggests a routine victory, but the Saints had a worrisome start, falling behind 14-10 at halftime. Any hopes of a Detroit upset were soon squashed, as the Saints got rolling with 35 second-half points. And there lies the problem for any team facing the Saints--stopping a powerful and diverse offense that seems to actually be getting better. By the end of the day, the Saints had run for 167 yards, with another huge performance from Drew Brees, who threw for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns.
On paper, if any team on the road to the Super Bowl can stop the New Orleans juggernaut, it’s the 49ers. San Francisco has the top-rated defense in the conference and are #2 in the entire league with a scant 14.3 points allowed per game. Then again, they didn’t really face the great offenses this season. It would have been nice going into this game to have seen them contain a team like the Patriots, Packers, or Saints. They never played those teams, so one has to wonder how a secondary ranked #16 will hold up against the Saints’ high-flying attack.
But let’s not allow the sparkling New Orleans offense to blind us from the merit of the 49ers. They were tied for the league-lead with 38 takeaways and led all teams with a mere 10 turnovers on offense. The time off had to help, especially for veteran RB Frank Gore, who despite a good season, sagged a bit to the regular season finish line. The defense will be bolstered by the presence of LB Patrick Willis, who will play after being banged up late in the season. Return threat Ted Ginn, Jr. is also back and can spring one at any time.