Gridiron Gab Week Twelve Preview – San Francisco at New Orleans

Last season it was maybe the game of the year when the Saints and 49ers dueled it out in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Sunday, the two teams hope they can re-create that kind of excitement when the two teams meet in a huge NFC showdown in the SuperDome in New Orleans.

Right now there’s a huge question mark for the Niners, as there’s still no word on if it will be Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick starting at QB for San Fran.

Smith made some huge throws in the 36-32 win over the Saints in the playoff game last season, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left.

The Niners QB is likely to sit with a concussion he suffered Nov. 11 against St. Louis. Kaepernick impressed in his first career start, going 16 of 23 for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers against a Bears defense that had forced 30 in its first nine games.

“I wanted to come out and show what I’m capable of and show that I can be a starter,” said Kaepernick, a second-year player who starred collegiately at Nevada. “That’s what I’ve been trying to prove since I’ve been in the league.”

While it’s unclear if Smith will be available, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said the team could change quarterbacks from week to week, and even during the course of a game.

“That’s up to the coaches,” said Davis, who caught six passes from Kaepernick on Monday for 83 yards and a touchdown. “That’s their decision. I’ll let them decide and they always call the shots.”

The Saints (5-5) are in the midst of a turnaround that seemed improbable after an 0-4 start. They have won three straight and five of six after a 38-17 victory at Oakland last Sunday, climbing within one game of the last NFC wild-card spot.

A tough remaining schedule still blocks New Orleans’ road to a fourth straight playoff berth. San Francisco is the first of three consecutive division leaders the Saints will face, as games with Atlanta and the New York Giants await.

“We’ve got miles to go,” said assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who is 3-1 since returning from a six-game suspension. “We’re nowhere near where anyone on this team wants to be. That’s why every practice and every meeting and every chance you have to get better is critical. This is a marathon.”

New Orleans’ passing game has been consistent all season, with Drew Brees‘ 28 TD passes leading the league and his 306.6 yards per game ranking second. Now, he’s getting help from the running game. The Saints have run for 140-plus yards in three straight games even without Darren Sproles (broken hand). They ran for 100 once in the first seven games.

Sproles by the way has been on the practice field the past three days, and should be good to go for the matchup Sunday. In his absence, the three-headed attack of Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory combined for 419 rushing yards in the last three games.

“With the early struggles we had in the run game, we just kept at it,” center Brian de la Puente said. “We stressed the little things. We knew we were close the whole time. We are at a point right now where we’re very confident in our run game.”

I like where the Saints are going right now, as they have that run game going, and Brees is playing as well as any QB in the league right now. The Niners questions at QB have me worried, and I don’t see Kaepernick having as much success as he did Monday night.

It will be sold out and loud in the SuperDome Sunday, and I think Brees and the Saints ride their current hot streak to another huge win.

New Orleans 24 San Francisco 13

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