San Francisco 49ers (4-4) FB Bruce Miller calls this week’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints (4-4) a “must win” game. Let’s be honest, every game from here on out is a must win game. A team that was highly regarded to be a Super Bowl favorite heading into the season, the 49ers are now fighting for their playoff lives at the mid-way point. And with the team going on a mini two-game road trip, they will have to win at least one of those games if they hope to have any chance of making the playoffs.
A guarantee that 49ers RB Frank Gore made as he blatantly said, “We’re going to make the playoffs,” he will have to show up on Sunday, as the Saints are a different team at home. So how will this game play out? Considering the 49ers are -5 point dogs, I fully expect the 49ers to come out swinging with their smash-mouth ways.
A philosophy that has been questioned as of late, as 49ers OC Greg Roman continues to take heat for neglecting the run, one has to wonder how many touches Gore will get this time around. And while he only has 23 carries in his last two games combined, expect Gore to reach close to that number on Sunday alone. A player that lets his game do the talking, it will be up to the 49ers shaky offensive line to re-establish their will down in the trenches, if Gore is to generate any kind of positive play.
However, it won’t be easy as Saints DC Rob Ryan is an aggressive defensive coordinator, who will likely make Gore a focal point of their game-plan. Whether applying a safety blitz with S Kenny Vaccaro or bringing down nine men in the box, Ryan will surely apply the pressure as the 49ers offensive line has allowed 14 sacks in their last two games. If the 49ers can fix this weakness while opening up some gaping holes for the running game, they should be in it for the long haul as they try and keep Saints QB Drew Brees off the field.
With the running game doing it’s part, look for 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick to do his as he surveys the field to find the open receiver. A dual-threat quarterback who can also evade the rush with his running ability, do not think for a second that Kaepernick won’t utilize his legs on Sunday. A Saints pass-rush that will bring the pressure it will be up to the 49ers wide-receivers to get open one-on-one on the outside. From WR Anquan Boldin to WR Stevie Johnson, Kaepernick should have his opportunities if and only if the offensive line in front of him can pass-protect. It’s not all on Kap as everything starts up front, so the 49ers goons better hold up or it could be a long day for the 49ers offense.
With the offense trying to keep Brees off the field, it will ultimately come down to their No. 2 ranked defense to keep them within striking distance. A unit that will be without Pro Bowl ILB Patrick Willis for the third consecutive game, it will be rookie third-round pick (No. 77) ILB Chris Borland’s chance to shine. A rookie who registered a whopping career-high 18 tackles last week, they will need an encore performance once again as Borland continues to play the Mike position. However, Borland won’t be the only rookie that will need to make an impact as first-round pick (No. 30) DB Jimmie Ward and fifth-round pick (No. 150) OLB Aaron Lynch will get the lions share of the snaps on nickel and third-downs respectively.
If Ward can contain fellow first-round pick (No. 20) WR Brandin Cooks in the slot while Lynch brings the pressure on Brees in the backfield, it should be a good day for the 49ers defense. A lot to ask of the rookies but it’s the next man up ideology, and those two will need to shine.
With the 49ers looking to get back on track, I just don’t see that happening this week as I predict a Saints win, 27-17.
NinerFans.com 6-2 (Over/Under)
With the total points set at 49, I would slightly take the under. Although I predict the Saints to win by double digits do not be surprised if the 49ers run-game keeps them in the game preventing Brees from taking the field.
NinerFans.com 3-4-1 (line)
With the 49ers being five point underdogs, I would eat the points and take New Orleans at home. A safe bet for a team that plays well at home as a struggling one comes in with no offensive identity.
Fantasy Football (7 out of 24)
As you know we select three players each game who we think will score touchdowns (quarterbacks omitted). Here are this week’s picks.
TE Jimmy Graham
RB Mark Ingram
WR Brandin Cooks
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