SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (7-2-1)
at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EDT
Line: San Francisco -1, Total: 50
The Saints look to continue their second half surge, and they’ll try to do it against the same 49ers team that ended their 2011 season.
New Orleans has won five of their past six games, including three in a row by an average of 13.3 points per game. They’ve been greatly improved defensively over these three wins, allowing 19.0 PPG during that span. Last year in the Divisional playoffs, the Saints outgained the Niners 472-407 at San Francisco, but lost the turnover battle 5-to-1. They still had a chance to win, but Alex Smith found Vernon Davis for a 14-yard touchdown with nine seconds left to give San Francisco a 36-32 victory. Smith will not start this game however, as the team is sticking with Colin Kaepernick despite Smith being cleared of his concussion symptoms that kept him off the field last week.
Can the Saints avenge last year's playoff loss? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL game throughout the 2012 season and playoffs.
Kaepernick was certainly impressive last Monday against a Chicago defense considered by many to be the best in the NFL. The second-year pro completed 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. He also got Davis more involved in the offense, as the big tight end caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. This ended a slide of 40 receiving yards or less in each of his four previous games with Smith under center. There has been no slump in San Francisco's running game this year, as it leads the NFL with 165 rushing YPG, gaining 5.5 yards per carry. Frank Gore has his highest YPC average since 2007 with 5.3 YPC and needs just 169 yards over his final six games to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the sixth time in his past seven seasons. Gore has also burned the Saints in three straight meetings, gaining 283 rushing yards on 5.8 YPC and adding another 125 yards on the receiving end, totaling 408 yards from scrimmage (136 YPG). The 49ers have the luxury of choosing either method to move the football as the Saints rank last in the league in rushing defense (158 YPG) and second-to-last in passing defense (305 YPG).
Drew Brees has thoroughly enjoyed facing this 49ers defense in his career, as he is 5-0 in regular season starts with 295 passing YPG, 12 TD and only 2 INT. He also lit up this team in that playoff loss, throwing for 462 yards and four touchdowns. Brees is the biggest reason his team has won five of six, throwing for 1,716 yards (286 YPG), 18 TD passes and just 4 INT in this span. New Orleans has not been a great rushing team for the season (95 YPG, 26th in NFL), but it has been chewing up yards at an impressive pace in the past three games with 147 rushing YPG on 5.4 YPC. With RB Darren Sproles (hand) set to return for the first time in nearly a month, the ground game should be even more potent, as Sproles averages 4.5 YPC this season and 5.2 YPC for his career. Despite the Saints' great offensive rhythm, the 49ers have been extremely stingy all year, allowing just 183 passing YPG (2nd in NFL) and 94 rushing YPG (7th in league).