It was a nice weekend full of football that only had 2 blemishes; we didn’t get to watch the Niners, and a national championship game that left more to be desired. Past that, I can’t find anything wrong with a weekend that allowed our team to rest and watch the game we all love. We now know our opponent, and to little surprise we happen to meet up with one of the most prolific offenses of all time and a quarterback that set the record for yards in a season this year.
I personally was a Lions fan last weekend, as the Saints have the longest winning streak it the NFL and have looked unbeatable at times. Though when the game was well in hand, I became overjoyed knowing that we would be playing the Saints. All this week I’ve heard how the Niners are going to get slaughtered and how this should read more as an obituary than a preview. Personally I am loving this because it’s coming from fans of teams who are sitting at home. Even the odds-makers in Vegas have the Saints as the favorites, which is truly rare because the home team has only been the underdog in the divisional round a handful of times in NFL history.
In my opinion, this is the perfect matchup for us. I didn’t want to have to face the Giants again; every single one of our division opponents did better the second time around against us so I didn’t want to give the Giants a second chance. They are starting to look a lot like the 2007 version when they went on to win the Superbowl. That year they kept a game close against the best team in the NFL late in the regular season, a loss which inspired them all the way to a title. This year their turning point was a loss to the Packers. Since then the Giants have gotten healthier, while Green Bay lost WR Greg Jennings to injury (though healthy now) and Aaron Rodgers hasn’t played a game in 3 weeks. No matter how much you practice nothing can simulate live football like a real game. If Green Bay comes out rusty, don’t think the Giants would be ready to take it from them.
As for the Falcons, it wasn’t as much worry as it was fear playing that WR core. We could stop Michael Turner, but I think we struggle versus dominate WR’s and the Falcons have 2 in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Harbaugh spent a week preparing to play the Saints, so any curveball would have been a set-back to our teams’ mentality. I think it could have led to a let-down as well.
Saints have an uncanny ability to protect Brees from pressure up the middle. Brees is the shortest starting QB in the NFL standing right at 6 ft and at times has trouble seeing over the line. When watching him this past weekend versus the Lions, he was at his best when there was no one in his face. That may sound generic for all quarterbacks but it means even more for Brees. The few times the Lions were able to get pressure up the middle, Brees threw an off-target pass that sometimes sailed. This plays into our favor as we are the best team at creating turnovers. We are also one of the best teams in the league at creating pressure while having plenty of men back in coverage. That will be key because sending the house is never a good option against a top notch quarterback. They tend to read the blitz and then throw it to the area where the blitz was coming from.
Our defense is going to have to have their best performance of the season. The Saints receivers aren’t scary, but they have two weapons in Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles that could be a problem. Sproles is playing the Reggie Bush role, which is almost insulting because he’s done a better job with it than Bush could ever do. The 49ers have struggled against speed backs the last few years, especially ones that could catch coming out of the backfield. As for Jimmy Graham, any guy that is 6’6’’, can run, and catch anything thrown in his the area is always a match-up nightmare. Hopefully LB Patrick Willis knocked off enough rust in the season finale to be prepared for Graham.
With as much faith Jim Harbaugh has in QB Alex Smith I think this game could determine how big of a contract he gets or if he will even be back in a Niner uniform. I love the relationship coach and QB have, but Colin Kaepernick was drafted by Coach Harbaugh. Normally when a new regime comes in so does a new QB. Especially when it’s a veteran. Look at Seattle, Tennessee, Oakland, and even Denver all this last year. Look at what’s going on in Indianapolis, they have just about cleared house and owner Jim Irsay is already saying he’s prepared to draft Andrew Luck. Jim Harbaugh name wasn’t on Smith, but he did know that with no offseason Alex was the best chance to win this year. Alex has been given a raw deal his entire career up to this point. If he can pull this game out he can prove a lot of people wrong and forever put to rest the bust label. If not, well Coach Harbaugh might start looking at other options.
My pick 6
1. Brees throws 2 interceptions
2. Smith throws 2 Touchdowns
3. 49ers win time of possession by having the ball over 34 minutes
4 The Niners score on each of their first 3 possessions
5. Saints are held under 24 points
6. Niners win by more than a touchdown
Whatever happens this Saturday, its been a heck of a turn-around for a once proud franchise. With that said the only real question is who will be playing come next week in the NFC championship game.