Featured Video from Scott Reichel
The San Francisco 49ers (10-2) are looking to rebound from their 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This week, they travel to face the New Orleans Saints in a contest that could have huge ramifications for the NFC West division race.
The Saints (10-2) are fresh off a 26-18 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The victory clinched the AFC South division for New Orleans.
Sunday's game gives each team an opportunity to control their NFC playoff destinies. Kick-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game airs on FOX.
The 49ers hoping to keep pace with SeattleThe 49ers announced that left tackle Joe Staley, running back Matt Breida, and cornerback Richard Sherman all practiced on Wednesday. While it's unclear how healthy each will be for Sunday's showdown, the fact they're getting there is a good sign for the 49ers, who must win to keep pace with the Seattle Seahawks.
They'll need to be at full strength, particularly on the offensive line as they face a dynamic Saints' pass rush. New Orleans is fourth in the NFL in sacks, with 40 on the season so far.
Given San Francisco's best chance to gain large of chunks is through the air, this is one of the battles to watch. If the 49ers can withstand the Saints' pass rush, then Jimmy Garoppolo should have ample time to pick apart a New Orleans secondary that surrenders 256 yards per game.
Defensively, the key is to pressure Drew Brees. The 49ers' defensive line is filled with stalwarts like Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, and DeForest Buckner who lead a San Francisco pass rush that's had 45 sacks this season. That said, they'll face a tough challenge from a good Saints offensive line that only allowed 20 sacks to this point.
The Saints eager to make a statementNew Orleans has won their last three games in part thanks to the strong play of their offense which has scored at least 26 points in those contest. Brees has been good during this stretch, throwing for 723 yards and seven touchdowns.
On Sunday, he'll face a tough challenge from the 49ers' secondary, even more so if Sherman is able to play. San Francisco allows 163 passing yards per game. Moreover, New Orleans, outside of Michael Thomas, don't have established threats.
That said, even with Thomas being the focal point, many teams can't guard Mike. In November alone, he snagged 37 receptions for 415 yards and four touchdowns in four games. In a game that could very well come down to the last possession, he's the X-factor.
Defensively, New Orleans must use its tenacious pass rush to pressure Garoppolo. Given the Saints' weaknesses in the secondary where they give up huge chunks of yards, their front seven can mitigate this by dominating the line of scrimmage. One player to watch is defensive end Cameron Jordan, who's coming off a four-sack performance on Thanksgiving.
Trends found on Covers.com New Orleans is:
- 8-2 ATS in last 10 games
- 7-2 in their last 9 against NFC opponents
San Francisco is:
- 6-13-1 ATS in last 20 against NFC opponents
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
The Saints have the advantages where it matters the most. Their offensive line has been outstanding, and I expect them to mitigate a stout 49ers pass rush for most of the game. Even if San Francisco applies pressure to Brees, he's adept at handling it, posting a 128.4 QB rating when facing blitzes. Defensively, the difference is the Saints' pass rush, led by Jordan, who'll get after Garoppolo early and often. In a game that comes down to one possession, New Orleans wins the battle on both lines of scrimmage to win the game.
Prediction: New Orleans -2.5
Full-Game Total Pick
The Saints are 4-0 in the Under in their last four Week 14 games. I look for this trend to continue as both defenses factor largely in this one. The 49ers are excellent at shutting down the run and pass while the Saints' pass rush will force San Francisco into more three and outs. This style of play lends to a lower scoring game, as both defenses combined only allows 35 points per game.
Prediction: Under 44.5