The San Francisco 49ers have earned themselves a first-round bye and a home playoff game, and will sat back this weekend to see how the Wild Card round shapes up. Of the four teams playing for the NFC over the weekend, three of them could be teams that San Francisco could see in the divisional round. The only team in action that the 49ers can't play is the Detroit Lions, as they're the lowest seed, and would default to a game against the Green Bay Packers (for the third time this season) if they happen to win.
Which means the three teams that could end up coming to Candlestick Park on the 14th include the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants. First, we'll take a look at the first one, the No. 3 seeded Saints.
Drew Brees has led the Saints to an identical record to San Francisco, sitting at 13-3 , but ultimately losing the tiebreak due to an earlier loss to the lowly St. Louis Rams. You can look at the fact that they lost to the Rams while the 49ers beat them twice (including a shutout earlier in the season), but that would be foolish. It's clear that New Orleans simply had an off day.
But yes, back to the aforementioned quarterback - Drew Brees. If you hadn't heard, he's kind of a big deal, having broken Dan Marino's long-standing passing yardage record in Week 16 and piling it on in Week 17, along with NFL records for completions and completion percentage in a single season. Aside from earning a first-round bye, it was absolutely necessary that the 49ers beat the Rams the second time and secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC, because Brees is absolutely filthy at home.
The best case scenario will be a game in which the weather is poor and Brees is rattled. San Francisco's defense is very good, potentially the best in the NFL, but a little help from the elements in this potential game would be a big help.
New Orleans is first in the league in offensive yards per game, passing yards per game, No. 6 in rushing yards per game and No. 2 in points scored. They've almost got 100 more first downs than their opponents this season (416 to 326) and have more than 1,000 more yards than their opponents as well (7474 to 5895). Relief could come for the 49ers in the form of the Saints defense, which is ranked 24th in the league and can, at times, be very porous.
Perhaps the most significant of those stats, just by how ... almost outlandish it seems is the rushing yardage stat. The Saints have no rushers over 1,000 yards or, really, anywhere close, yet they rank No. 6 in the league in rushing yards per game. That's because four different running backs have over 300 yards for the Saints. Darren Sproles, a free agent acquisition, has 603 yards on the ground, with a stunning 710 yards receiving on top of that. Pierre Thomas has rushed for 562 yards, and rookie Mark Ingram has rushed for 474 yards. Bringing up the rear is Chris Ivory, who still has 374 yards and a 4.7 per-carry average.
Sproles has a whopping 6.9 per carry average, and has his 603 yards off of just 87 attempts. Then again, San Francisco boasts the league's best rush defense, and have dealt with speedy players effectively this season.
If the Saints win on Saturday, then that's who the 49ers will play, regardless. They'd be the highest remaining seed, and that means a huge matchup at Candlestick Park. But the Lions do stand a chance to beat the Saints, considering the weaknesses they possess defensively. Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense are one of the best in the league. Unfortunately for them, they also have a somewhat porous defense that can be passed on.
In the Superdome, that's going to be a tall order for the Lions - stopping Brees. It's pretty clear the 49ers are rooting for a Lions victory on Saturday, regardless.