Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Friday, January 13, 2012
Sando's best guess: Saints-49ers prediction

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers, despite fielding arguably the NFL's best defense in 2011, gave up 513 yards to Philadelphia and 472 yards to Dallas in the first four weeks of the regular season.

Later, the New York Giants managed 395 yards against the 49ers.

The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants gained more yards against the 49ers than any other opponents during San Francisco's 13-3 season.

All three games featured wild finishes. The 49ers won two of them. They blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in losing to the Cowboys in overtime. They needed (and got) a 20-point comeback to beat the Eagles. And they made a frantic defensive stand to hold off the Giants.

We could be headed toward a similar finish when the New Orleans Saints visit Candlestick Park for an NFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday.

The Saints set an NFL record for yards gained, topping 7,000 during the regular season. They set another record with 626 yards against the Detroit Lions in the wild-card round of the playoffs, amassing roughly double what the 49ers gained (314) while beating Detroit in Week 6.

The 49ers' defense should be better than it was early in the season if Patrick Willis returns to pre-injury form and rookie Aldon Smith keeps up his late-season push (provided he is on the field frequently, which could be in question). But the Saints still have a better chance than any 49ers opponent to move up and down the field.

Enough prologue. Let's get to my prediction for the week. Getting both NFC West outcomes right in Week 17 upped my season record to a borderline respectable 34-18. I've had the 49ers' backs all week, balancing out suggestions San Francisco has no chance. Would I turn my back on them when it matters most? Cue the video to find out.