Hey media, how about if we let the New Orleans Saints actually beat the San Francisco 49ers before we automatically put them into the NFC Championship Game against the Packers?
(Side note: and if the battle-tested Giants win today, we may want to hold off on anointing the Packers too…)
I made the mistake of turning NFL Countdown on for background noise while I edited Brandon’s Charles Barkley SNL recap, and in between Tom Jackson’s hyperbole, the weird supposedly musical noises coming from Cris Carter, and Chris Berman’s grunt-speak, I was floored by just how simplistic and ignorant each of these so-called “experts” was sounding in discussing (if you can call it that) the Saints’ next game.
Keyshawn Johnson summed it up when he said, to paraphrase, “I don’t think the 49ers can score 28 points on the Saints’ defense, but the Saints can definitely put up 45 on the 49ers.”
Oh really, Keyshawn?
Well, just as you surely are capable of doing or saying something with an ounce of humility, I suppose highly unlikely events like the Saints putting up 45 on the great San Fran defense are, technically, possible. But you might want to do some actual research, actually take a look at some statistics, before spouting off such asinine nonsense.
Here are a few reasons 49ers fans should just chuckle to themselves confidently every time a media member starts discussing the Saints moving onto the NFC Championship Game as being inevitable.
Image source: Here
1. The Saints Are Magic At Home, But Mortal On The Road
If this game were in New Orleans, I’d jump right on the Saints bandwagon with everyone else. They are damn near unbeatable in the Superdome. The Saints are 9-0 at home this year, with victories by 17, 7, 55, 11, 25, 14, 29, 28, and 17.
So not only has no one beaten the Saints in New Orleans, but only one team has come within a touchdown of the Saints at home, the Texans back in Week 3. And three of those last four scores came against playoff teams.
But on the road, on typically slower surfaces without their rabid fans, the Saints have not been nearly as imposing.
The Saints lost three times on the road this year. One loss came against the Packers in Week 1, so there is no shame there. The other two losses came against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, so there is great shame there. While you can chalk those two terrible losses up to New Orleans just overlooking those two woeful teams, what’s to say they don’t overlook the 49ers too? They did it last year in the playoffs, and the Seahawks beastmoded them right back home.
Regardless of how Saints supporters will explain away those losses, and to be fair New Orleans has won its last three on the road and last nine overall, there is no question that the Drew Brees-led offense is far less potent on the road.
In nine home games this year, New Orleans has scored 374 points, 46.75 points per game. That is ridiculous. But in eight road games, New Orleans only scored 207 points, 25.88 points per game, and in none of those games did the Saints play the league’s #1 scoring defense, which resides in San Francisco.
Which leads me to important point #2:
2. The 49ers Are Also Magic At Home, Mortal On The Road
Why is no one talking about this?
Wait, let me rephrase that, because surely informed, insightful NFL analysts are somewhere. (Right?)
Why are none of the football buffoons shoved down our throats on Sunday morning talking about this?
Guess who else has been outstanding at home this year. That’s right: the San Francisco 49ers. No, San Fran is not undefeated at home, but they are 7-1 in Candlestick, winners of their last six, and the only game they lost was one in which they outplayed the Cowboys but allowed the game to get to overtime where they were done in by the immortal Jessie Holley.
Consider these eight numbers: 17, 24, 3, 10, 20, 7, 0, 3. These are the point totals San Francisco has given up at home this year. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 84 points in eight games, or 10.4 points per game. No, none of those teams featured an offense as great as the Saints, but that is canceled out by the point I’ve already made: that the Saints’ 21-point average decrease in scoring on the road did not include any games against teams with the defensive prowess of San Francisco.
As you might expect, the 49ers’ offense is also much better at home. Here are their offensive outputs at home this year: 33, 24, 48, 20, 27, 23, 26, 20. That’s 221 points at home, for a supposedly “bad” offense. That equals out to 27.6 points per game. For perspective, check out how that compares to the Saints’ average output on the road. (It’s almost two full points higher.)
Am I saying that the 49ers will have the better offense next Sunday? No. These Saints are a remarkable unit with a great QB, a great architect, terrific skills players, and they are on a roll. But don’t expect the 45-point Saints on Sunday like Meshawn assumes.
If the Saints hit their road scoring average of 26 points, they will score more against the 49ers than anyone did in San Francisco all year. They are certainly capable, but as the numbers above prove, the 49ers are also capable of putting up points, especially against a defense that is far more generous than their own (21.2 points per game given up, on average; 24.5 in road games).
3. Who’s Got The A Psychological Edge Better Than The 49ers? No-BODY!
As soon as the Saints won last night, I fully expected the majority of the media and fans to give them a pass to the NFC Championship Game. Something tells that while Jim Harbaugh may seethe about this outwardly, he is probably ecstatic inside.
If the Lions had won, San Francisco would be facing the Giants-Falcons winner. The 49ers already beat the Giants at home, and the Falcons are not exactly an imposing playoff presence on the road. In either case, over-confidence combined with rust from the bye week could have been an issue for San Francisco.
Because New Orleans won, the 49ers get to face a team they surely won’t take lightly, and they will do so with the us-against-the-world, nobody-believes-in-us mentality that is so often a part of the formula for upsets in big games (for those of you who would consider this an upset). If you don’t think Jim Harbaugh will play this particular motivational card to perfection, you haven’t been following the 49ers this year.
Example: The 49ers absolutely were shat on by the NFL schedule-makers this year. They played five games in the Eastern time zone this season, once having to do it in back-to-back weeks and another time have to do it on a short week (Thanksgiving). This has typically been a nightmare scenario for west coast teams, especially when the games are early starts as four of these games were.
Yet San Francisco went 4-1 in these five games. Why? Because Jim Harbaugh is proving himself as a master motivator and prescient manager of his football team.
The first two of these games came in succession in Weeks 3 and 4, so Harbaugh had the team stay in Ohio in between games. The trip not only served as a bonding experience for the team, but also a tremendous confidence builder. Harbaugh played it perfectly.
Why should we expect anything different from him this week? Harbaugh has pushed all the right buttons this year, and he’s got an easy one to push this week. It’s not often that a talented, confident 13-3 team coming off a first round bye and playing at home can play the no-on-believes-in-us card. San Fran can, and it will help to ensure razor-sharp focus and winning energy, especially early in this game.
4. San Fran Ain’t Afraid Of No Saints
Sure, the 49ers’ defensive coaches will likely have insomnia this week as they break down film of the Saints’ offense; but the players only have to converse with the ghosts of 2010 to realize that they’ve got the Saints right where they want them.
Image credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez via SFGate.com
Last season, in Week 2, the Saints beat the 49ers 25-22 in Candlestick. Remember, this was in the midst of the 49ers terrible 0-5 start to the season. The 49ers tied it at 22-22 late, but Drew Brees engineered a quick, efficient drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
A few interesting stats from that game:
- San Fran outgained the Saints 417-287
- Drew Brees was about as good as he could be (28-38, 254 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) and the Saints still needed a last second field goal to win
- San Fran lost the turnover battle 4-0…this year, no team has a better turnover margin than the 49ers
What does this result from last year mean? Not a whole hell of a lot, as 16 months have passed since it happened, and Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles have made the Saints infinitely more dangerous now than they were then. But, a lot of the current 49ers played prominent roles in that game, and walked away from it thinking they gave the game away. It suggests that San Francisco will respect the Saints without fearing them, which is the perfect mindset to have heading into a playoff game.
With all of the above said, I’m not ready to pick this game yet. That will come later in the week. But I am certainly not giving the Saints an automatic pass to the next round like so many other NFL analysts seem willing to do. It’s just lazy, ignorant, prisoner-of-the-moment “analysis” that the four points above highlight.
We’ll have to wait until next Saturday afternoon to see what the ultimate outcome is, but in the meantime don’t listen to the talking heads. This game is far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, it just may be the best game of the Divisional Round.