2012 NFL Playoffs: Can Alex Smith, 49ers Stun Drew Brees, Saints?

January 14, 2012 by

The 2012 NFL Playoffs have already been chock-full of surprises and the Divisional Round should feature much more of the same.  It all kicks into swing with Drew Brees and the high-flying New Orleans Saints (14-3)—fresh off scoring their third consecutive forty-five burger at the rejuvenated San Francisco 49ers (13-3) on Saturday at 4:30pm EST on FOX.

Currently as explosive as TNT, Brees and the Saints not only boast the top offense, but are also clearly the most sizzling team in the league.  Their stiffest competition on defense all season was presumably against Houston back in September, nonetheless.

Containing the record-setting Saints attack will be no day at the beach for San Francisco, despite leading the NFC in defense and playing on a favorable field that could be saturated with monsoon-like conditions.

The 49ers can facilitate their chances by continuing to minimize mistakes on offense, as they lead the NFL in fewest fumbles and interceptions this season.  The 49ers also lead the league with 38 forced turnovers on defense, 23 of which at home.

Cranking up the ground game with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter (combined for 1,682 rushing yards and 10 TDs) early and often is a double-whammy, as the Saints defense surrenders five yards per carry and controlling the clock keeps Brees and the New Orleans offense on the sidelines.

However, while I don’t expect this affair to turn into a track meet, Alex Smith and company will likely have to step out of their comfort zone and open up the passing attack more than usual in order to hang with the opposition.

NFL.com Analyst Bucky Brooks believes Michael Crabtree could be in for a sure-fire breakout performance.  ”With Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams willing to dial up the blitzes, don’t be surprised if Crabtree has a monster day on the outside against man coverage.”

Photo Via NinersNoise.com

Home Sweet Home: The proof is in the pudding.  The biggest factor in this matchup isn’t momentum or the Niners’ demoralizing defensive front vs. the Saints’ rock-solid offensive line.  It’s not the suspect secondary from either team, San Francisco’s outstanding ground game or the lopsided battle between quarterbacks, either.  Albeit all of those components will play a part in deciding the outcome, the determining facet will be home-field advantage.

New Orleans is 9-0 at home this season (when you include last week’s win against Detroit), outscoring opponents 374-170 (41.5 to 18.8 points per game) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  The Saints are not so super on the road, with a record of 5-3 and outscoring opponents 219-197 (27.3 to 24.6 PPG).

As BleacherReport.com Contributor Jon Siddoway writes, “the New Orleans Saints have never won a single road game in franchise history.”

The 49ers are 7-1 in Candlestick Park, having outscored opponents by a whopping 221-87 margin (27.6 to 10.8 PPG).  San Francisco has posted a decent 6-2 road résumé, beating teams by a combined score of 159-142 (19.8 to 17.7 PPG).

Look for a tight contest for four quarters, as the well-rested Niners strike gold with a shocking upset and advance to the NFC Championship Game.  Prediction: San Francisco 27, New Orleans 24 

Verse of This Piece: “So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you.” —Mark 11:24

Michael Gartman is the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com and Managing Editor at NFLTouchdown.com.  

Follow @_MichaelGartman and @GridironGrit on Twitter!  Let me know your feedback below!

Be sure to check out Peter King’s predictionsAlbert Breer’s predictionsJason La Canfora’s preview and the NFL.com Expert panel picks.  NinersNoise.com Associate Editor Matt Hamm elaborates on why he believes the 49ers will pull off the upset.

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