Saturday's hotly-anticipated playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints is nearly upon us. It promises to be the playoff matchup that epitomizes an offense-first team against a defense-first team. The Saints had one of the most potent offenses in all of the NFL in 2011, while the Niners fielded the staunchest defense in the league. All of the experts and analysts and other such types who get paid to have opinions on sports matters have chimed in with their personal picks, so let's take a look at how the 49ers fared.
Bill Simmons over at Grantland picks the 49ers to win 22-20 on Saturday and advance to the NFC Championship Game. Here's his rationale:
The Saints played last week; the Niners are coming off a bye and have to be the healthiest playoff team in recent memory. The Saints struggle to score if they can't run the ball (as covered above); the Niners swallow up the run as well as anyone. These Saints want to avoid those ugly, hard-hitting, field goal-laden, "22-19"-type outdoor games in which their offense never totally gets going, their opponent shortens the game and special teams (and turnovers) play a giant factor; the Niners specialize in those ugly games, especially at home.
Of course, in typical Simmons fashion, he then goes on for nearly another 500 words to further elucidate why he is picking the Niners, only to wrap up with what amounts to saying, "Hey, this one's a coin toss."
Peter King over at Sports Illustrated isn't quite so optimistic about the 49ers, but he is considerably more concise. He picks the Saints to win, 23-20. Here's what he has to say:
I don't know why I'm hung up on the weather so much, and what it might do to the Saints' offense. I think it's because every time I've covered a January playoff game at Candlestick, it rains for 40 days and 40 nights prior to it, and the turf is a spongy mess. That, of course, would negate the impact of Darren Sproles and the only slightly less speedy Robert Meachem. But it's not going to be cruddy, and so I see the Saints being able to play the game they want to play. And Sproles remains the most dangerous non-quarterback still in the playoffs.
The experts over at ESPN are also split as to who will win the game, with four columnists picking the Niners and four picking the Saints. No further analysis is offered, but it is worth noting that the cold, emotionless robot that is known only as ACCUSCORE comes down on the side of New Orleans.
As previously noted, Kerry J. Byrne is the only contributor at Sports Illustrated that pegs the Niners to overcome the Saints, only to fall to the Green Bay Packers in the subsequent round of playoffs.
Meanwhile, over at CBS Sports, the Niners once again figure to be the underdogs in the minds of most analysts, as three contributors select the Saints to win, against only two in favor of the 49ers. Taking a look at the other selections at CBS Sports reinforces what seems to be the only true consensus: that this game will be the most unpredictable game of the week, perhaps of the entire 2012 playoffs.
Two things are for sure: Bay Area football fans everywhere will be glued to the game for its duration. And Niners fans probably don't put much stock, if any, into what the "experts" have to say. In just a few short hours, we'll all know the answer.