It’s really too bad that espn and the rest of the media is so singularly focused on Tim Tebow versus the New England Patriots, because the Saints against the 49ers should be an absolutely great game: a classic battle of a great defense against a great offense.

 

#3 New Orleans Saints (14-3) at #2 San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
4:30 ET on Fox
Television Announcers: Kenny Albert, Darryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
Radio Announcers: Kevin Kugler, Mark Malone, Scott Kaplan
Sirius: 88 (WW1), 92 (NO), 86 (SF). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (NO), 226 (SF)

Opening Line: New Orleans favored by 3½
Current Line: New Orleans favored by 3 to 3½
Over/Under: Opened at 47½; closed at 46½

 

By The Numbers:

49ers Offense
23.8 points per game – 11th
310.9 yards per game – 26th
183.1 passing yards per game – 29th
127.8 rushing yards per game – 8th
10 turnovers – 1st

7.1 yards per pass attempt – 16th
61.4% pass completion – 12th
18 passing touchdowns – 24th
5 interceptions thrown – 1st
91.4 quarterback rating – 8th
44 sacks allowed – 25th
263 yards lost on sacks – 22nd

4.1 rushing yards per carry – 19th
14 rushing touchdowns – 12th
2 fumbles lost – 7th

Saints Defense
21.2 points per game – 13th
368.4 yards per game – 24th
259.8 passing yards per game – 30th
108.6 rushing yards per game – 12th
16 turnovers – 31st

7.1 yards per pass attempt – 14th
57.8% pass completion – 9th
24 passing touchdowns – 16th
9 interceptions caught – 28th
86.4 quarterback rating – 22nd
33 sacks – 19th
256 yards lost on sacks – 13th

5.0 rushing yards per carry – 29th
11 rushing touchdowns – 15th
3 fumbles recovered – 16th

Saints Offense
34.2 points per game – 2nd
467.1 yards per game – 1st
334.2 passing yards per game – 1st
132.9 rushing yards per game – 6th
19 turnovers – 4th

8.3 yards per pass attempt – 4th
71.3% pass completion – 1st
46 passing touchdowns – 2nd
14 interceptions thrown – 12th
110.5 quarterback rating – 2nd
24 sacks allowed – 2nd
158 yards lost on sacks – 3rd

4.9 rushing yards per carry – 4th
16 rushing touchdowns – 7th
3 fumbles lost – 11th

49ers Defense
14.3 points per game – 2nd
308.1 yards per game – 4th
230.9 passing yards per game – 16th
77.3 rushing yards per game – 1st
38 turnovers – 1st

6.9 yards per pass attempt – 10th
57.5% pass completion – 8th
20 passing touchdowns – 8th
23 interceptions caught – 2nd
73.6 quarterback rating – 5th
42 sacks – 7th
284 yards lost on sacks – 7th

3.5 rushing yards per carry – 1st
3 rushing touchdowns – 1st
3 fumbles recovered – 16th

 

When the Saints have the ball one thing that is not in their favor is the fact that they are not inside in a dome; they’re simply not as effective on the road outdoors. Everybody knows about the Saints passing game, but one thing that is often overlooked is how good a running team they are; Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram are all productive runners that have to be accounted for. As good as they are I don’t think they will be able to get much done against the NFL’s best rushing defense.

That leaves Drew Brees and his uncanny ability to read defenses and get a quick release to one of those running backs or a very impressive receiving corps of TE Jimmy Graham (99 receptions for 1310 yards and 11 TD), WR Marques Colston (80/1143/8), Lance Moore (52/627/8), Robert Meacham (40/620/6) and Devery Henderson (32/503/2); in addition Sproles had 86 catches for 710 yards an 7 touchdowns. As good as San Francisco’s defense is they simply can’t cover everybody for very long.

That means for the 49ers defense to work they will need to get to Brees quickly, without over committing to too many pass rushers. I think San Francisco’s defense is under appreciated and will get to Brees more often than most think; don’t overlook the fact that they’re as good as anybody in the league at creating turnovers.

When the 49ers have the ball you can expect some punts, even though the Saints defense is not all that. San Francisco may not score a lot but they secure the ball very well; the fact they seldom turn the ball over may be their biggest strength. By the end of the day Frank Gore will have about 100 yards and people will think ‘where did that come from’? Can Michael Crabtree step up and live up to his pre-draft hype in this game?

 

Prediction: Saints 24, 49ers 23

49ers +3½ – 3 units
Over 46½ – 0 units