49ers vs. Saints 2012 game preview: New Orleans out for playoff revenge

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on the New Orleans Saints in a rematch of last year's NFC divisional playoff game, which the 49ers won with a touchdown in the final seconds.

The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, as the former looks to guarantee a .500 season with their eighth win, while the latter hopes to make that next hurdle and jump above .500 for the first time this season. We all know that Drew Brees will be making the start for New Orleans but, despite their 7-2-1 record, the 49ers have something of a quarterback controversy on their hands.

Alex Smith missed last week's game with a concussion, though many felt he barely missed the final hurdle for clearance and that he would be good to go for this week. But Colin Kaepernick played a fantastic game, and now the 49ers have not declared a starter. They've said that Smith hasn't been cleared to play yet, but that's likely a familiarity at this point.

As such, the Saints don't know which quarterback to prepare for. Still, they've got plenty of motivation, as last year's NFC divisional playoff game will certainly be on their minds. San Francisco won that game on a touchdown pass from Smith to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left. New Orleans would like to get a win here, as they've got two tough matchups against the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons up next.

Meet the Saints

The Saints appeared to be among the NFL's worst through the first few weeks of the season, dropping four straight games. That string of losses included falters against Kansas City and Carolina, two teams near the bottom of the NFL through Week 11. But they managed to pick up a few good wins, besting San Diego and Tampa Bay before another loss, but have now won three straight.

One of those wins was over the division-leading Atlanta Falcons, who are 9-1 on the season. Brees and Co. out-gunned Matt Ryan and his crop of receivers en route to that 31-27 win, and the Saints piled it on in Oakland last week, winning 38-17.

But this three-game stretch is the hardest of the season, with two road games against aforementioned Atlanta and the Giants, so getting a win at home against San Francisco is crucial. The best they can finish this season is 11-5, and that would require winning out. It also might be necessary in order to grab a playoff spot in the NFC this time around.

Meet the 49ers

San Francisco followed up a dismal Week 10 in which they played the St. Louis Rams to the NFL's first tie game since 2008 by dominating the then 7-3 Chicago Bears by a score of 32-7. Aldon Smith picked up 5.5 sacks in that one and, as noted, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick played exceptionally well.

So they're in a precarious position, though some argue it's a good one to be in. They have two quarterbacks who have been playing well and they haven't yet announced a starter, though presumably they've already made a decision. That being said, if it's the wrong one and they ride with the still unproven Kaepernick, they could have another loss on their record and no way to go back and make the decision again.

Still, the 49ers boast the NFL's top defense in many statistical categories. Their special teams have also been playing well these past few weeks and, if anything, both quarterbacks can be described as "the hot hand," right now. For the Saints and their lacking defense, both San Francisco quarterbacks could have their eyes set on a big day.

Local Takes: Saints

Win Ellington of Canal Street Chronicles noted that this game is one that many Saints fans are seeing as a revenge opportunity, but he also noted that getting revenge won't be easy.

However, after watching the 49ers thoroughly dominate the Chicago Bears Monday night 32-7, it's obvious that getting revenge will not be an easy task. I still have faith that the Bless You Boys can do it, but they will certainly have their work cut out for them.

Local Takes: 49ers

Tre Faaborg of Niners Nation took a look at New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, and the fact that his numbers haven't been out of this world as of late.

For instance, you might be surprised to hear that Brees hasn't thrown for 300 yards since week seven. Yep, in the last four games Brees has only exceeded even 250 yards one time, in fact. Against Oakland he threw for 219 and Denver 213. Of course, he's also thrown for 10 TDs in the past four games, so he made the plays that counted.

Brees has also thrown four interceptions in his last four games and nine on the season. The 49ers should have a chance at at least one INT on Sunday if Brees' average continues.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Niners Nation and Canal Street Chronicles, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@CSCTweet

@NinersNation

@Eric_Branch

Prediction

The quarterback will be key in this one (surprise, surprise). Though it was Alex Smith who led the 49ers on those come-from-behind drives in last year's divisional playoff game, Colin Kaepernick is the guy that has the most explosive potential. New Orleans has a poor defense against both the pass and run, and Kaepernick is the kind of guy who can boost both aspects of the game equally. Given that it looks like he's going to start, it's likely he'll pay off for the 49ers big time.

The pick: 49ers win, 28-17

Odds

According to OddsShark, the 49ers opened as two-point favorites, but the line has moved even closer, with some books having it at even money and others having them as just one-point favorites.

Next Week

The 49ers will stay on the road, and will rematch the St. Louis Rams in Week 13, after getting a tie against them in Week 10. New Orleans will hit the road for their rematch against the Falcons, who presumably will be 10-1 by that point, provided they can best Tampa Bay in Week 12.

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