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49ers Vs. Saints, 2012 NFL Playoffs: Can/Do Defenses Win Championships?

Just about all of the previews for the San Francisco 49ers Divisional Round showdown against the New Orleans Saints have focused on the defensive side of the ball, at least when it comes to the 49ers. San Francisco's defense is one of the best in the league, and arguably the best defense that the Saints have faced this season.

On Saturday, the 49ers will see if "offense wins games, defense wins championships," is still true to any extent. The Saints won a Super Bowl on the back of their great offense, while the 49ers won their titles with some of the best offensive players in the game (though the 49ers championship defenses would steal the lunch money of the offensive-minded teams' defenses over the last decade).

Instead of Joe Montana, it's Patrick Willis. Instead of Jerry Rice, it's Justin Smith. Is it sacrilege to put those names together? Honestly, it doesn't feel like it. Rice and Montana are two of the top five best players in league history, but Willis is well on his way to being the best inside linebacker the league has ever seen. Smith, to his credit, is probably one of the top ten most dependable players in league history with the way he conducts himself. The guy does everything and on top of that, he's incredibly clutch. He's won games single-handedly.

This 49ers defense does some things better than the great 49ers defenses of old, too. Not everything, but a lot of things. We're getting a little off course here. The question is much more than "can the 49ers defense beat the Saints offense?" it's more like "can a defensive-minded team still win the Super Bowl?" A victory over the Saints won't guarantee a victory in the big game, but it probably does validate the question, considering the Saints could be considered the league's best offense.