NFC Division Playoffs: San Francisco 49ers host New Orleans Saints

A fantastic battle pitting defense against offense is set for today’s NFC Divisional playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers (13-3, 7-1 home) and the New Orleans Saints (13-3, 5-3 away), and for online sports betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here, you certainly won’t want to miss out on what could be the most exciting playoff game of the weekend. The San Francisco 49ers will seek to win a playoff game for the first time in 9 years, while the New Orleans Saints try for their first ever playoff road win. Something has to give tonight in the Bay Area, and we’re betting that sports fans will be in for a real treat when these two very different squads collide at the historic Candlestick Park.

The New Orleans Saints are, for lack of a better term, otherworldly on offense this season. Coming into today’s match-up fresh off a 45-28 dismantling of the Detroit Lions at home on Wild Card weekend, where the Saints offense generated 626 total yards, Drew Brees (%71.2 completion, 5476 yards, 46 TDs) leads his record-setting offense into a very tough match-up against the 49ers top scoring defense, which is allowing only 14.3 points per game (10.9 at home), and gives up just 77.3 yards/game on the ground while surrendering 230 yards/game through the air. For the Saints, finding a way to win while traveling West is a huge hurdle to get over, especially against a shut down defense like the 49ers. In order to overcome at San Francisco, the Saints will simply have to continue their offensive production through the air, as it’s going to be tough sledding on the ground for the most part. While the backfield is stacked with talent, consisting of Pierre Thomas, all-purpose yards record holder Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram, success may be hard to come by on the ground against a 49ers defensive front that relinquishes just 3.5 yards per carry. That said, if Saints can find a way to generate some yardage with the rushing attack, which has been the set-up for the passing game led by the surgical Drew Brees, there’s simply no way the 49ers offense can compete toe-to-toe. While the rushing game may stall and will fall short of generating the type of yardage (167) put up against the Lions, becoming too one dimensional and hedged on the pass alone against an opportunistic San Francisco secondary (one with 23 INTs on the season, good for 2nd in the NFL) could result in a few mistakes that help to swing the tide of the game towards the 49ers favor. For better or for worse, the Saints must run the ball to win this match-up.

If anyone saw what the 49ers were able to do defensively against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15’s Monday Night Football game (a 20-3 drubbing), you know how talented a defense coach Jim Harbaugh has to work with in his first year on the job. In the second half of that game, the Steelers couldn’t do anything with the football on offense, mainly due to the pressure on the injured Ben Roethlisberger, applied in heavy doses by the 49ers stout pass rush. However, against a very mobile quarterback in Drew Brees (vs. the highly immobile Ben Roethlisberger for Pitt), containment is going to be a huge key, as bringing full-on blitzes at him often results in Brees stepping aside the rush and firing downfield to one of his many targets. There’s no way you can fully stop the NFL’s record-shattering offense, led by arguably one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time, but limiting the big play downfield by collapsing the pocket and forcing Brees to work in a confined area has to be part of the plan. Brees does give up the interception from time to time as well (14 on the season), which San Francisco must exploit. The Niners must also keep the Saints running game frustrated and sputtering, as stopping the run will go a long way towards putting added pressure on Drew Brees, and limit the amount of play-action pass plays that can be set up against them.

That starts first and foremost with getting good, but not overly aggressive pressure at the quarterback, which the 49ers are very good at, generating 42 sacks on the year thanks to contributions from rookie linebacker Aldon Smith (14 sacks), veteran defensive tackle Justin Smith (7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles), and linebacker Ahmad Brooks (7 sacks). San Francisco’s linebacker corps will be especially key in today’s game, as the secondary will need lots of help covering the Saint’s tight end and receiving yards leader Jimmy Graham (99 catches, 1310 yards, 11 TDs), who is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. While Graham is going to get his catches, being that he’s one of the most sure-handed tight ends in the NFL, limiting him over the middle and keeping him from racking up tons of yards after the catch will be a big help to the San Francisco bottom line. That goes the same for another match-up difficulty in the 6’4″ Marques Colston (80 catches, 1,143 yards, 8 TDs). Colston is great at pulling down the football when thrown out of reach of smaller cornerbacks and safeties, and while he’ll inevitably have some success (he’s catching 97.6 percent of passes thrown to him this year, and will see plenty of looks due to his stature), keeping him from getting loose and developing big plays has to be a priority. With these two targets the bread and butter of the Saints passing game, they’ll have to be limited in their production in whatever way possible if the Niners hope to keep New Orleans out of the endzone.

On offense, the 49ers will look to take advantage of a Saints defense that has given up at least 34 points in their last 3 playoff road games, and could get some help versus a New Orleans offense that isn’t as good playing outdoors, putting up just 23.8 points per outing. That will certainly help the prospects for the slower, run-based San Francisco offense , who ranked 8th in the league rushing behind Frank Gore (282 carries, 1,211 yards, 8 TDs), stay on pace in today’s match-up. Frank Gore is extremely important to the game plan for the Niners today, and as has happened frequently over the years, his stamina towards the end of the season comes into question for this match-up (averaging just 53.6 yards in his last 8 games). While the Saints are pretty stout against the run (12th in the league at 108 yards/game allowed), the 49ers have to run the football against the blitz-happy Saints with both Gore and Kendall Hunter (112 carries, 473 yards, 2 TDs), in order to keep them honest and give quarterback Alex Smith (%61.4 completion rate, 3,144 yards, 17 TDs) a chance to throw downfield. While the 49ers may be a run-first offense, they’ll be facing the 30th-ranked pass defense of the Saints that is allowing 259 yards per contest, which could be vulnerable against the likes of tight end Vernon Davis (67 catches, 792 yards, 6 TDs) and the speedy Michael Crabtree (72 catches, 874 yards, 4 TDs). Like the Saints, utilizing the run to set up the pass is a key for San Francisco, as they’ll inevitably have to find a way to generate enough offense to overcome the Saints attack. That said, the 49ers would do well to push the run as much as possible, if only to shed time off the clock and prevent Drew Brees from getting his hands on the ball. While scoring points is always a good thing, limiting Brees’ own ability to score could be even more effective in this match-up today.

Betting Lines for New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers at TopBet Sportsbook
The lines are set for the Saints as a favorite heading into this road match-up with the 49ers, with the Drew Brees-led offense leading the way towards a -190 favorite on the money line, while San Francisco will play as a +160 underdog at home. Against the spread, the Saints must cover 3.5 points at -120 odds, while the Niners get 3.5 points to play with at EVEN money. For the over/under, the defensive presence of San Francisco and the Saints lower scoring in outdoor games on the road help to keep total points down to 47.5, with -110 odds going for either the over or the under bet. While we’re dropping our wagers at one of the top online sportsbooks at TopBet today, you can visit the NFL odds page for this game to find the best lines at the best online sportsbooks reviewed here.

Our Pick to Win:

While San Francisco is a fantastic defense that plays shutdown football at home, playing against this year’s New Orleans Saints is going to be an extremely tough challenge for even the stingiest of defenses. I like the 49ers chances at keeping the score low against the Saints, considering how well they play at home and the lower scoring ability of the Saints outside domes, but I see them struggling to handle both the rushing attack and the passing game if and when Drew Brees gets in a groove. Therefore, San Francisco simply must keep the ball in their possession as much as possible if they are to win today, as allowing Brees time to drive down the field will inevitably result in touchdowns, regardless of what defense he faces. However, if they can stall the Saints in their red zone drives and limit this game to more of a field goal battle, the Niners will have an edge and could pull off the upset that keeps the Saints winless on the road in the playoffs. Remember too, that even though this Saints team is much improved over last season, they still are mostly the same team, with the same leaders, who were shocked against a 7-9 Seattle team that played well under home conditions. I don’t think that plays out for a second year in a row though, and I’ll back this well-rounded Saints offense to be too much for San Francisco to contend with today, as they overcome their road question marks and put up enough points on offense to beat out San Francisco. Saints prevail 30-24 in a well-fought ball divisional playoff game that should be very enjoyable for watching and wagering at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here.

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