It does not matter what the San Francisco 49ers' defense has done this year or what kind of a mastermind Jim Harbaugh is. It seems to be an overall consensus that the New Orleans Saints are the overwhelmingly better team heading into the game on Saturday.
The Saints are favorites not because of a west coast bias or even because the 49ers have received little if any respect throughout this entire season, but because New Orleans simply puts up points on a consistent and relentless basis.
The saying "defense wins championships" does not apply to the NFL in this day and age and especially not to the Saints or Green Bay Packers this season. Both teams sport mediocre defenses, but have offenses that score at will, and that is what matters.
So then can we write off the 49ers as just another bump on the Saints' road to a matchup at Lambeau Field with the Packers two weekends from now?
Not so fast. The 49ers will have several things going for them when they play the Saints on Saturday afternoon.
San Francisco has the luxury of playing at home at Candlestick Park away from any dome the Saints would feel comfortable in. The 49ers also have a relentless pass rush that is sure to at least perturb quarterback Drew Brees just a smidge.
However, the number of things going against the 49ers far outways the number of things going for them, and that is the reality of it.
The Saints average 467 yards of total offense per game, ranking No. 1 in the NFL, while boasting the quarterback with the second best passer rating in the NFL at 110.6. The team also averages 34 points per game.
Even if the 49ers were so lucky as to slow down the Saints' offense by a touchdown or two, it would still require the San Francisco offense to put up around 24 points on Saturday at Candlestick Park to even contend.
Alex Smith and a beat-up Frank Gore will have a lot on their plate.
If the 49ers want to win this game against a hearty offense like Drew Brees and the Saints, they will need to stick to their strengths. That means controlling field position with punter Andy Lee and David Akers, having an overwhelming pass rush against one of the NFL's best offensive lines and limiting the dump-off passes from Brees to Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas.
To say the least, it will be a tall task for the 49ers on Saturday.
There are two ways the 49ers can contend and win this game on Saturday, and they will need to do both for every second of all four quarters.
The first is for Alex Smith to simply put up points, most notably in the red zone. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have had nearly two weeks to come up with some sort of offensive scheme to throw at a decent Saints defense. The reality is that New Orleans is just 30th in the NFL in pass defense, so Smith will be able to throw the ball with some consistency. Also, the Saints rush defense allows just over 100 yards per game, which will be a welcome sight for Gore and Kendall Hunter, who is sure to play a big role in Saturday's game.
It is a fact that the 49ers need to pass rush Brees to death in order to have a chance, but the Saints' best asset is that they adapt to defenses easily because they have weapons like tight end Jimmy Graham and Sproles.
Make no mistake, the 49ers are at their best when they control their opponent's field position. Brees has no problem leading a drive 80+ yards down the field, but if San Francisco can make him do that drive after drive, then that smothering 49ers' defense will have to kick in eventually, even against a New Orleans offense with so many playmakers.
The goal for San Francisco on Saturday is not to stop the Saints every drive, but to stop them just enough and when it counts. That will put them in position to win this game.
It would be easy to pick the Saints, who are favorites and playing incredible offensive football right now, but the fact the game is outside at Candlestick Park against one of the NFL's top defenses brings this game back to nearly an even match-up.
We all underestimated Harbaugh and his coaching staff at the beginning of the season. And after a 13-3 season, i am having a hard time betting against him again.
However, that New Orleans offense is simply too overwhelming with too many targets to game plan for. Although the 49ers' defense will be able to hold the Saints back for a good portion of this game, it will only be so long before those offensive flood gates open up for Brees & Co.
Saints win 31-27