49ers need big game from QB, defense
Forget that the 49ers clinched their first NFC West championship since 2002 by late November, finishing with a 13-3 record that gave them a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional playoffs.
Forget that the 49ers placed eight players on the Pro Bowl roster, tying the New England Patriots for the most by any NFL team.
Forget that the 49ers had five players named to the All-Pro first team.
None of it adds up to a bowl of gumbo now.
Only two things matter: Can the 49ers limit record-breaking Saints quarterback Drew Brees to, say, 300 passing yards and three touchdowns, and can his counterpart, Alex Smith, play the game of his professional career?
The Saints are performing at a higher level than the New Orleans team that won the Super Bowl two years ago. Brees recently shattered Dan Marino's regular-season record for passing yards. In New Orleans' 45-28 playoff win over Detroit on Saturday, Brees threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns while the Saints rolled to a record 626 total yards. He'll now face a vulnerable secondary.
New Orleans has won nine straight games while scoring at least 42 points five times. But the Saints do bleed. Two of their regular-season losses came at Tampa Bay and at St. Louis two terrible teams now looking for head coaches. The Saints' defense ranked 24th in the regular season.
The 49ers rely heavily on their rushing offense and defense. Smith, who has been asked to manage games by minimizing mistakes, must step up and help win this game. If not, next stop Hawaii for many 49ers.
Who will win Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park?
Vote above or leave your comments in the comments field; or go to www.sacbee.com/sports
Weekend's poll results
How will the Kings play under coach Keith Smart?
Total votes: 272
Opponent: New Orleans
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: 1320, 680
Have a question about the 49ers-Saints matchup in the NFC divisional playoffs? Send it to us, and if your question is selected for our video Q&A with The Bee's Matthew Barrows, you will receive an iTunes gift card. Email your question, with your name and address, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for a collectible commemorative playoff poster featuring 49ers running back Frank Gore.