NFL: Saints March on San Francisco for Playoff Combat

Al Dannity | Updated Jan 09, 2012

The New Orleans Saints head west this Saturday to battle the resurgent San Francisco 49ers. Once rivals of the old NFC West, these franchises are a different breed than in the days of Archie Manning or Joe Montana. Al Dannity breaks down a unique post-season pairing.

Familiar foes, different strokes New Orleans and San Francisco played in the same division, the NFC West, right up to 2001. The 49ers thoroughly dominated the Saints throughout as Joe Montana and later Steve Young led San Francisco to 5 Super Bowls. The championship scoreboard since then favors the men from the Big Easy. New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV with an electrifying passing game, one that is even more dangerous today. As the Saints shone, San Francisco wallowed through a lengthy playoff drought. It appeared as though Alex Smith would never see the post-season. Then Jim Harbaugh moved up the road from Stanford and established a defensive powerhouse.

Role play David Akers and Darren Sproles are not the biggest stars on their teams but both will have big roles to play on Saturday. Akers’ phenomenal kicking performance in 2011 was pivotal to the 49ers’ success. Against an opponent that can score from any situation, it’s critical that San Francisco get something from as many drives as possible. That will make Akers a big NFL betting factor in this game.

Sproles is the lead part of New Orleans’ three-headed running game. Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas may look stronger but Tiny Darren has been a monster all year. The success of New Orleans’ aerial attack relies heavily on opponents’ respecting the running game. If Sproles can establish a presence early, it will open up opportunities for Drew Brees to dominate.

The verdict There may not be another game in the playoffs where the strengths of the two participants are more different. ‘Bend don’t break’ is a term normally used to describe defenses and the Saints certainly fit that bill. The 49ers may have the first ever ‘bend don’t break’ offense. They are largely conservative but just risky enough to keep the scoreboard ticking over nicely. That will give the San Francisco defense a chance to decide this game. It is impossible to wholly stifle the Saints’ offense. Keeping the score manageable however is a more achievable goal. Putting my faith in Alex Smith is difficult but I’m going to make the leap. I like the 49ers to pull the upset.

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