The Lions against the Saints went basically how I thought it would: A high scoring, high yardage shootout with the Saints coming out on top. The Lions shouldn't be killed by their fans for losing. For how far they have come since going 0-16, just making the playoffs should have made Lions fans happy. Would a win have been great? Of course. But the Lions have nowhere else to go but up in 2012. Making the Divisional Round of the playoffs simply wasn't in the cards for this year. The Saints are red hot the last few weeks and will provide a huge challenge for the 49ers.
As for San Fran, Jim Harbaugh should win Coach of the Year, regardless of what happens this weekend. Not only did he coach up the team to a 13-3 record, but he managed to turn Alex Smith's career around after Smith topped career highs in completion percentage (61.4), passing yards (3150) and yards-per-attempt (7.1).
Unfortunately, I think this weekend is the end of the 49ers' 2011 campaign.
Not that I think the Saints will blow the 49ers out. Given the fact that the Steelers lost to the Broncos and the Falcons lost to the Giants, home-field advantage has been a huge factor in the playoffs so far. And it's always a little bit "weird" when an Eastern team has to fly out to the West Coast.
These two teams played each other in Week 2 of the 2010 season. And if that game represents anything that will happen this weekend, we will be in for one hell of a contest. The Saints beat the 49ers by a score of 25-22. Drew Brees was held, somewhat, in check with 254 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, while Alex Smith tossed up 275 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
The last paragraph leads right into the quarterback matchup. It's hard not to give the nod to Brees. Coming off a 4-touchdown game against the Lions, he was likely one of the top quarterbacks taken in all playoff leagues. And he should be one of the top choices for this weekend's game. Smith will have to throw and throw a lot in order for the 49ers to keep up. I don't expect huge numbers from Smith, but matching his numbers from the 2010 game could be easily attainable.
If the 49ers want to keep pace, they are going to have to keep the ball out of Brees' hands. In the 2010 matchup, Frank Gore rushed 20 times for 112 yards and a score. He will get 20+ carries again, making him an RB1. On the Saints side, Pierre Thomas (8Carries/66YDS/1TD) and Darren Sproles (10Carries/51YDS/2TDs) were huge against the Lions Defense, but it's not going to be easy this week against a 49ers Defense that allowed a mere 77.2 rushing yards a game and a league-leading 3 rushing touchdowns. In PPR leagues, I'd count more on Sproles (4Rec/34YDS) as a fantasy factor. So while the Saints have better depth, I still give the nod to the 49ers in the backfield due to the defensive matchup. It would be great if Kendall Hunter could get more involved to keep Gore fresh.
Michael Crabtree is a tremendous talent, and the only fantasy option worth anything this week on the 49ers' side, but the nod goes to the Saints on this one. Marques Colston and Robert Meachem each put up over 100 yards a piece against Detroit, with Meachem gaining a touchdown, but the team also has Devery Henderson, who scored as well.
This one is too close to call, so I will go by regular season stats. The Saints gave up an average of 7.2 fantasy points per game to tight ends during the regular season, while the 49ers gave up 5.9. For me, I think the 49ers have to get Vernon Davis more involved in the passing game with no other viable passing option past Crabtree. Jimmy Graham had 7 catches for 55 yards and a score over the weekend and has been a bigger part of the passing offense than Davis has, which gives Graham the nod between the two. I rank Graham as a top TE1, with Davis as more of a high-end TE2.
A part of me really thinks the 49ers have a chance to "squeak" by and get into the NFC Championship, but I think the Saints offense will be too much. And couple that with an iffy passing game and a 49ers team that relies heavily on the run, you have the makings of a score of 24-14 Saints.