Most sportswriters are picking the Saints to beat the 49ers today, and the Saints are indeed the betting favorite.
Lots of people are in for a big surprise.
Let's first make the case for the Saints. New Orleans has a rapid, productive offense run by Drew Brees, an all-time great quarterback, a pleasure to watch. In the past, the Saints running game wasn't so hot, but they have improved their running and now pose a double whopper threat.
They will overwhelm the 49ers defense, turn the game into a shootout, and everyone knows the 49ers, with their proclivity for field goals over touchdowns, can't survive a shootout.
That's the standard case, right? And it's a persuasive case.
But there's more to the story.
The great Saints offense is not so great on grass. This is known. The Saints offense was created to excel on the speed of artificial turf in the Superdome. Put that offense on the soggy, heavy Candlestick grass and the timing between Brees and his receivers isn't quite the same. In this game, milliseconds will matter.
Everyone says the Saints offense is special — and it is. But so is the Niners defense. Sure, it's sexier to talk about offense but defense matters. The 49ers have the best run defense of all time. Both Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio have said Patrick Willis is the Willie Mays of middle linebackers. Well, throw in NaVorro Bowman and the Niners have Willie Mays twins at middle linebacker.
On the defensive line, they have Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, and that's like having Bryant Young and Charles Haley next to each other. Cornerback Carlos Rogers is playing out of his mind — it's like having Deion Sanders on the team. Joe Montana and Steve Young never had a defense like this one.
So, what's the point? Don't be so sure the game will be a shootout. New Orleans will not score at will at Candlestick Park against that defense. The 49ers defense makes every team one dimensional. It takes away the run — and it will take it away from the Saints — and it forces teams to pass. Sure, Brees is a great passer, but the 49ers will get to Brees and may even hurt him.