Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: Saturday's NFC Divisional Round Game:
(3) NEW ORLEANS (14-3) at (2) SAN FRANCISCO (13-3), 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Old School vs. New School: The home-team 49ers have emerged as the antithesis to what has become the standard of elite quarterback-driven offenses in the NFL. Built on a suffocating run defense, the 49ers won the NFC West handily and earned the bye week and the right to host this divisional-round playoff game against the Saints.
New Orleans has perfected the modern aerial-assault offense led by record-shattering QB Drew Brees. In their wild-card victory over the visiting Lions, Brees continued his success from the regular season, throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns. The only question swirling around the Saints as they head to San Francisco is whether a team that plays its home games in a dome can replicate its success outdoors in the postseason.
San Francisco has not played since its 34-27 victory over the Rams in Week 17. The well-rested bunch will attempt to do what few teams have accomplished this season, which is to stop the Saints. Rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh will make his postseason debut against New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, who holds a 5-2 record in the playoffs, and is 4-0 against the Niners.
Saturday presents a classic matchup of unstoppable force vs. immovable object.
The Saints are the NFL's top offense. The Niners are the NFC's best defense. New Orleans boasts five offensive Pro Bowlers. San Francisco has four on the defensive side.
The 49ers finished the regular season with the best turnover ratio in the NFL with an astounding plus-28 margin. The defense was tied for second in the league in interceptions (23) and fumbles forced (18) while the offense turned the ball over only 10 times.
Rookie LB Aldon Smith recorded 14 sacks, finishing a half-sack behind the league's rookie record set by Jevon Kearse in 1999. LB Navorro Bowman led the Niners with 136 tackles playing next to Patrick Willis, five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. DT Justin Smith has also enjoyed a stellar season and is considered a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Offensively, the 49ers rely heavily on their running game, finishing the regular season second in the league in rushing attempts with 497. Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore led them with 282 attempts and 1,211 yards. QB Alex Smith has enjoyed a bounce-back season, completing 61 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
The San Francisco defense will be tasked with stopping the most prolific single-season offense in NFL history. On Saturday, the Saints continued to shred the record books by compiling a playoff-record 626 yards. Brees threw for 466 yards, the most in a regulation playoff contest. He also became the first player in history to throw for over 400 yards in back-to-back postseason games. Even more, it was the eighth-consecutive 300-yard passing game for Brees and the sixth time this season the Saints totaled over 500 yards of offense.
There is no lack of impressive numbers for Brees. Consider this: In his postseason career, he is completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,518 yards with 18 TDs and two INTs for a 106.2 rating.
This is the first postseason game between the teams. Once NFC West foes, the two have played 71 times in the regular season, with the 49ers holding the advantage at 45-24-2. However, New Orleans has defeated San Francisco nine times in their last 11 meetings, with their last loss coming in Week 17 of the 2001 season at the Louisiana Superdome.
The Niners have a 22-11-2 all-time record versus the Saints at Candlestick Park. Their last meeting in San Fran, in Week 2 of the 2010 season, resulted in a 25-22 New Orleans victory. This season the Saints were 5-3 on the road, compared to 8-0 at home. Conversely, the Niners were 7-1 at home, the only loss coming in overtime to the Cowboys in Week 2.
Historically, road playoff games have been unfavorable for New Orleans, 0-4 all-time away from home, including the 41-36 upset loss at Seattle in last year's wild-card round. San Francisco is 18-8 in its own building during postseason play. The 49ers are making their first appearance in the postseason since the 2002 season, when they reached the divisional round but fell to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers, 31-6, in the divisional round.
The only former Jet on the field for the Saints in this game will be LB Jonathan Vilma, the Jets' first-round pick (12th overall) in 2004. Vilma had five tackles and a QB hit in the 45-28 victory over Detroit on Wild Card Weekend.
The Niners have two ex-Jets contributing to their cause. Jonathan Goodwin, a Jets fifth-rounder in 2002 and member of the Green & White from '02-05, moved on to the Saints from '06-10 and was their starting center in the win over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Now he's the 49ers' starting C going up against the Saints. Also on the SF roster: Blake Costanzo, their second-leading ST tackler, who was in Jets camp in '06 and '07.
Then on the San Francisco sideline are secondary coach Ed Donatell, with the Jets as DBs coach from 1990-94 and as a special assistant in '07, and special teams coordinator Brad Seely, who held the same title with the Green & White in 1994.
Also, wide receivers coach John Morton was the WRs coach at USC in 2007-08 before being named the school's offensive coordinator. Morton was on the coaching staff at the same time Jets QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner and RB Joe McKnight were Trojans.