2020 has not been kind to most NFL teams, but its been especially hard on the San Francisco 49ers. The team started out with high hopes, and lost a lot of key parts.
Right when the team started getting fairly healthy and rallying back, the injury bug hit again.
Sitting at 4-5 is not where many fans expected to see this team. However, that is where the 49ers find themselves, going up against a New Orleans Saints team that just dismantled the talent-rich Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What can be expected this week? Will the 49ers rally, or will they fall to a team they would normally expect to compete with? Let’s dive in.
Why the 49ers Will Win
The 49ers got a bit of good news this week as Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk should be returning to play. This will be critical for the offense, as Nick Mullens gets the start in back-to-back weeks. The reinforcements are going to be absolutely necessary going against a Saints team that is fifth against the run, and ranked second in overall defense.
As always, the 49ers are going to need to rely on their rushing attack to keep them in good field position. Let Mullens work the ball on short passes when he is required to, as he is missing a plethora of weapons. To be completely honest, I don’t see the offense doing too much in this game, as the cards are stacked against them here.
That leads us to the defense. The 49ers defense actually stacks up very well against the Saints. The Saints work the ball short a lot, as Drew Brees doesn’t have the arm he used to, and this is one place where the 49ers excel. The Saints should have virtually no rushing attack against the 49ers rush defense, as Javon Kinlaw has been anchoring a defensive line that is still stellar.
Saints star wide receiver Michael Thomas is back on the gridiron again. That doesn’t bode well for any defense, but as we discussed, the 49ers handle the short pass game well. Fred Warner will look to command his unit to a great performance this week. The chess match between Warner and Brees is ultimately what will decide this game.
Jared Cook and Michael Thomas are going to need to be contained in the passing game. If the 49ers stop those two, this game will turn the 49ers’ way.
Why the Saints Will Win
Drew Brees finally has his favorite target back in Michael Thomas, and has had a week to get in sync with him. Add the fact that Emmanuel Sanders is another week removed from his COVID case, and Brees has his choice of weapons at his disposal. The scariest part of this offense is that their best wide receiver is just getting started, and without him, Alvin Kamara had still managed to total 60 catches on the year. Trying to decide between Kamara, Thomas, Sanders, and Jared Cook is a dicey proposition.
At least there is nothing to worry about from the Saints ground game, right? Wrong; the four leading rushers from the Saints all average over four yards per carry. More running lanes may open up as the passing game has even more success with health. Currently, Brees is averaging 265 yards per game, which should only go up from here. This will open up running lanes, with teams such as the 49ers having to devote more attention to the pass catchers.
On defense, Trey Hendrickson is the name to fear. Hendrickson is third in the NFL in sacks currently. Of course, this is partially due to the attention forced onto Cameron Jordan. The Saints as a team have 23 sacks so far, and have been getting after quarterbacks in a hurry. They should have no problem getting a few sacks of Mullens this week.
This game is also the return of recently-traded K’won Alexander. Always look for a good revenge game from a team that just decided to let go of a player. The back end of the Saints has been playing lights out lately. Marshon Lattimore has been holding wide receivers in check this year, and the 49ers are hurting at that position.
Sadly, I don’t believe this game will be very competitive. The Saints have gotten healthy at the right time, and are ready to play. Meanwhile, the 49ers have too much to overcome against a top-level team.
Prediction: Saints on top, 27-10
(Featured Image Credit: 49ers.com)