SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-3)
at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Line: New Orleans -3, Total: 47.5
After ending a five-game win streak last week, the 49ers will find it difficult to get back in the win column when they visit the Saints on Sunday.
While San Francisco managed a pitiful 151 yards in a 10-9 home loss to Carolina last week, New Orleans piled up 625 yards in a 49-17 home thrashing of the Cowboys. The Niners have 36.0 PPG and 198 rushing YPG in their past three non-home games, but the Saints are 5-0 (SU and ATS) at the Superdome with 35.2 PPG and 464 total YPG. Although San Francisco is 2-6 SU (4-4 ATS) in this series since 2002, both of those wins came in 2012 -- a 36-32 playoff victory, and a 31-21 win in New Orleans. The Niners have thrived against elite teams since the start of 2011, going 8-0 ATS versus opponents with at least a 75% win percentage. They are also 31-14 ATS (69%) off an upset loss as a favorite since 1992. However, the Saints are an impressive 17-3 ATS (85%) as a home favorite over the past three seasons, including 12-1 ATS (92%) when they are giving seven points or less. Both teams could be missing starting safeties with San Francisco's Eric Reid (concussion) and New Orleans' Malcolm Jenkins (knee) and Kenny Vaccaro (concussion) all listed as questionable.
Which NFC powerhouse will pick up the important win here? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts are sizzling in NFL Best Bets, combining for a 64% ATS record (25-14) over the past three weeks, including 79% ATS (11-3) in Week 10. StatFox Brian went 3-1 ATS in Week 10, to improve to 71% ATS (12-5) over the past four weeks. He has not had a losing week since Week 3. StatFox Gary was 3-0 ATS in Week 10, marking his fourth perfect week since Week 4. StatFox Scott was also 3-0 ATS in Week 10 and is 58% ATS (14-10) since Week 4. StatFox Dave is 60% ATS (6-4) in NFL Best Bets since Week 8.
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick was awful last week, completing just 11-of-22 passes for 91 yards (4.1 YPA), 0 TD and 1 INT, while taking six sacks. He was also hurt by his star TE Vernon Davis leaving in the second quarter with a concussion. Davis has been practicing on a limited basis this week, but appears to be on track to play Sunday. Kaepernick had a strong game in last year's trip to New Orleans, completing 16-of-25 passes for 231 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, while rushing for 27 yards and another score. WR Mario Manningham was his top receiver that day with 69 yards on five catches. Manningham missed the first eight games of the season with a knee injury, and had 30 yards on three grabs in his season debut last week. But the 49ers know that to be successful on Sunday, they have to run the ball effectively, like they have all season with 148 rushing YPG (4th in NFL) on 4.5 YPC (7th in league). Top RB Frank Gore (700 rush yards, 7 TD) has run for at least 70 yards in seven straight games, and totaled 101 yards with a touchdown in last year's win over the Saints. Defensively, the Niners rank sixth in the NFL in total defense (317 YPG), placing among the top-10 teams in the league in yards per carry allowed (3.9 YPC) and yards per pass attempt allowed (6.4 YPA). They have been outstanding on third downs (34%, 6th in NFL), but have been horrible in the red zone (64%, 4th-worst in league). However, this unit has created 15 turnovers in the past six games and gave Saints QB Drew Brees some trouble in last year's meeting.
In that 31-21 loss to the Niners, Brees completed 26-of-41 passes for 267 yards, 3 TD and 2 INT. But since that game, Brees has been outstanding at the Superdome, going 6-1 with 2,539 passing yards (363 YPG), 9.2 YPA, 26 TD and 3 INT. This includes last week when he completed 83% of his passes for 392 yards, 4 TD, and 0 INT, giving him 13 TD and 0 INT in his past three home contests. The Saints entered last week ranked 26th in rushing yards (79.8 YPG) and 29th in yards per carry (3.3 YPC), but steamrolled the Cowboys for 242 yards on 38 carries (6.4 YPC) and three touchdowns. RB Mark Ingram had been struggling all year (2.4 YPC), but he busted out with 145 yards on just 14 carries. However, it will be tough to gain yards on the ground versus a strong Niners run defense that limited New Orleans to just 96 yards on 35 carries (2.7 YPC) in the two meetings in the 2012 calendar year. The Saints defense has improved greatly from last year, especially through the air, where it ranks third in the NFL with 199.9 passing YPG allowed. New Orleans gives up just 18.1 PPG (5th in league) due in large part to a 26:21 time of possession (2nd-best in NFL) as a result of a stellar 31.8% third-down conversion rate (3rd in league). The run defense has been shredded at times this year though, allowing a league-worst 5.0 YPC and a subpar 117.7 rushing YPG (23rd in NFL). The Saints also need to force more mistakes with 0-to-1 takeaways in four of their past five games.