The Saints Go Marching In. . . The 49ers Go Marching Out???

Posted: January 12, 2012 by Kodi in NFL

This is a battle between the NFL’s best offense against the NFC’s best defense

We know Drew Brees can win games on his own but what about Alex Smith?

Is homefield advantage enough to keep the 9ers in the playoffs

The New Orleans Saints are traveling to Candlestick Park to face the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs. The 9ers have not been in the playoffs since being ousted in the same round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 but do have a 26-18 record in the playoffs all-time. The Saints have made the postseason in 4 out of the last 6 seasons and under Head Coach Sean Payton and under QB Drew Brees the Saints are 5-2 in the playoffs but before were 1-5 in postseason play. The Saints are coming off of a victory where their offense posted an NFL record 626 total offensive yards, including 459 passing yards and 167 rushing yards but they will be playing the NFC’s best defense on Saturday.

Jim Harbaugh left the Head Coaching position at Stanford University to come into the 49ers organization as their new coach and he became just the 3rd rookie 9ers coach to make it to the playoffs. Harbaugh turned around the 6-10 San Fran team into the NFC’s number 2 seed with a 13-3 record and at least one home game in the playoffs. He did it with a lot of the old tools left for him when he took over but he turned the -1 turnover ratio of 2010 into the league’s best +28 this season while improving a middle of the road defense into the best in the Conference.

That solid defense is looking forward to stopping Drew Brees and the Saints but the 9ers may have history on their side. Since Brees became the Saints starting QB the Saints are 16-14 on grass fields and he averages less than 2 touchdown passes per game. All 3 of New Orleans losses came on the road while the team averaged just 27 points per game nearly 2 touchdowns per game less than what their used to putting up in the friendly confines of the Superdome. This season they have been 4-1 on grass fields outdoors playing the Packers, Jags, Panthers, Bucs and Titans but they scored just 9 touchdowns in those 5 games which is phenomenal considering their scored 6 scores in the playoff game against the Lions alone.

The 9ers are one of the toughest defenses in the league ranking 2nd in points allowing just 229 and 4th in yards with 4930. They did not give up a rushing touchdown until week 16 against the Seahawks allowing RB Marshawn Lynch to extend his scoring streak to 11 games in a row. They allowed just 3 rushing touchdowns all year and gave up a league low 1236 rushing yards on the season holding their opponents to a weak 3.5 yards per carry. They recovered a league high 15 fumbles lost and had the 2nd most interceptions in the league with 23.

5 time Pro-Bowler LB Patrick Willis led the team with 4 forced fumbles but DE Justin Smith was just behind him with 3. DB’s Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson were both tied for 2nd in the league with 6 interceptions a piece and all four were vital to the 49ers incredible turnaround in turnover margin. They also ranked top 10 in the league with 42 sacks and were led by the two Smiths, Aldon and Justin. Rookie LB Aldon Smith who recorded 14 sacks of his own ranking him 2nd all-time just a half a sack behind Jevon Kearse’s 1999 season and a full sack ahead of Dwight Freeney’s 2002 and Reggie White’s 1985 season where they both recorded 13 while Justin was 2nd on the team with 7.5. I didn’t even mention their leading tackler and just another stand-out LB in this 3-4 defense Navorro Bowman who had 106 total tackles and a team leading 3 fumble recoveries.

Brees has an incredible offense behind him but their 6th ranked rushing offense will likely struggle against a powerful San Francisco defense. The only two losses Brees and the Saints have had in the postseason have come on the road and his lone interception in the playoffs while with New Orleans came on the grass of Soldier Field in a loss. Luckily for Brees WR Marques Colston is coming off of his best playoff game pulling in 7 balls for 120 yards but he still has just 2 career playoff touchdowns in 7 games. Coming into last week’s game Colston had 29 catches for 372 yards in 6 games, not the type of number you are expecting from someone who had 5 of 6 regular seasons with at least 1000+ receiving yards.

The 49ers offense is not going to scare anyone but they are a team that rarely turns over the ball committing just 5 interceptions and 5 fumbles during the regular season. Alex Smith was the 1st overall pick in the 2005 draft when he was selected over Packers QB Aaron Rodgers as the top QB prospect. Smith has been completely disappointing in his first 5 seasons posting a record of 19-31 throwing for 9399 yards 51 touchdowns and 53 interceptions. This season he was 273-445 posting his highest completion percentage of 61.3 tossing for 3144 yards, 17 touchdowns and 5 interceptions a league low among QB’s with at least 400 pass attempts. Smith’s two best receivers were TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree who combined for 1668 yards and 10 touchdowns. RB Frank Gore had one of his healthiest seasons rushing the ball 282 times for 1211 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Half of the 49ers games were decided by 7 points or less and if they are able to keep Drew Brees and the Saints in check they will have a great chance to win this game. Brees has played in 154 career games and won 92 of those but he has a 36-31 record in games decided by 7 points or less whereas his record is 87-31 in games decided by 8+ points. New Orleans will find themselves in trouble if they start off slowly as they did at home against Detroit and they may not be able to have a second half like they did in the Superdome. History is not on their side but the Saints offense is impressive and it is difficult to pick against them however defense wins championships. I am taking the 49ers in a close game 27-24 but I could see this game going 1 of 3 ways, a Saints blowout, a Saints slim victory or a 9ers slim victory as I predicted. The San Francisco offense isn’t going to scare anyone and I can almost guarantee that the only scenario likely not to happen is a 49ers blowout victory, almost.

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