49ers vs. Saints: Game Preview and Prediction
Jose Luis Sanchez III
For a third consecutive game, the San Francisco 49ers are must watch football.
This time it will be a matchup with yet another top team in the NFL: the 10-2 New Orleans Saints. It'll be two elite teams going at it for critical playoff seeding in the NFC playoff race. It can’t get any better than that for a regular season football game. The stakes are high for this game, but it is the 49ers who are dealing with the most pressure.
Entering week 13, the 49ers were sitting as the No. 1 seed in the playoff standings. Once the dust had settled from an eventful week, the 49ers found themselves falling as far down as the No. 5 seed. From a first-round bye to a Wild Card berth. That is how quick things can change in the NFL. It is why the 49ers have the most pressure for this matchup in New Orleans. Not only do they have to compete with the Saints for seeding, but the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC west.
A loss to the Saints would sink the 49ers into a deeper hole. Of course, if the Seahawks lose a game or two the 49ers will still have a chance. But they mustn’t worry about the competition. They have to concern themselves with what they can control and it starts on Sunday against the Saints. With the current layout, the 49ers control their own destiny. Winning out the rest of the way will guarantee them a first-round bye.
However, the Saints will not just lay down and allow the 49ers to have their way.
New Orleans has had a few extra days to rest and prepare for the 49ers since their last game was on Thanksgiving. The Saints have been a high-powered team all season long. It never mattered who was starting at quarterback, which speaks volumes to the talent of this team. It also helps to have Sean Payton as head coach who has been one of the best in the league for over a decade. The chess match between him and Robert Saleh will be the critical matchup of the game much like how it was last week against the Baltimore Ravens.
A win for the 49ers is contingent upon the performance of the defense and their ability to slow down the offense of the Saints. This defense is more than capable and well-equipped to contain them. Expect the pass rush of the 49ers to be revitalized in this game after weeks of taking on mobile quarterbacks.
As great as Brees is - his feet are basically bolted into the turf. He’s not someone who can manipulate the pocket nor will he try to escape the pressure. It would not be shocking if the 49ers’ pass rush had a field day against the offensive line of the Saints. That will instantly remove any idea of big plays for the Saints.
Just thinking about this matchup should draw plenty of excitement. Saleh is sure to have noted weaknesses that the Saints displayed in both of their games against the Falcons. That is where the extra days of preparation will come in handy for the Saints. They can go back to look at the film to clean up their errors with that extra time. If Saleh has shown anything it is that if there is a weakness for an offense he’ll exploit it. Kind of like the weakness on the Saints defense that Kyle Shanahan will exploit.
The weakness for the Saints defense is their secondary. Outside of Marshon Lattimore their secondary isn’t anything special. They allowed a bunch of second and third-string recievers from the Falcons to best them. Crossing routes and double-moves is the ideal form of attack in the passing game against them. Overall, the Saints defense is strong, but they do have some holes that Shanahan will attack.
The 49ers must come into this game fired up and ready to go because the margin for error is extremely slim. New Orleans is worthy of their elite title but, despite being at home, is still a challenge for them to handle the 49ers. San Francisco will get back on track on Sunday to remind everyone that they are still a team for others to be fearful of.