We’ve devoured all the information we could, pored over all the stats and set our DVRs. Now we’re about 24 hours away from game time and NFL writers throughout the country are making fearless predictions.
Even though experts are proven wrong with great frequency, it’s still interesting to see what those who are paid full-time to follow a specific sport think about that sport’s most important games and what will transpire.
Starting with the basic pick boxes that were provided by ESPN and Yahoo, here are some assorted NFL journalist bigwigs and their prognostications, along with a quote from each:
Peter King (Sports Illustrated): Saints 23, 49ers 19
“But (the weather is) not going to be cruddy, and so I see the Saints being able to play the game they want to play. And Sproles remains the most dangerous non-quarterback still in the playoffs.”
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): 49ers 27, Saints 26
“The 49ers will run the ball to keep it out of Drew Brees’ hands. That will help take some of the pressure off the San Francisco defense. The 49ers will scheme up ways on offense to help move the ball through the air. The Saints struggle on defense, and that will show up. It’s tough to shut down the Saints, but the New Orleans defense isn’t good enough to win on the road. Upset special.”
Gregg Rosenthal (Pro Football Talk): Saints 27, 49ers 23
“The Saints play PS3 football; the 49ers play Atari. The Saints build everything around their quarterback; the 49ers quarterback is only a cog in the machine. New Orleans didn’t top 25 points their last two times outdoors, but the offense is playing at a different level now. Modern football prevails, barely.”
Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk): 49ers 26, Saints 20
“Something has to give in this one, and with the Saints somehow favored to win, look for coach Jim Harbaugh to find a way to use that sign of disrespect to whip his team into a frenzy that will send the Saints limping out of Candlestick Park, with the Niners getting their first win since division realignment ended the twice-a-year rivalry in 2002.”
Pat Kirwan (NFL.com): Saints 27, 49ers 24
“The 49ers have had a remarkable season and Jim Harbaugh should be coach of the year for what he accomplished. This will be a lower scoring game than the Saints usually find themselves in, but in the end, New Orleans will pull out the win.”
Bill Barnwell (Grantland): 49ers 24, Saints 21
“The Saints have a huge advantage at quarterback and wide receiver, but the 49ers have them beat at every other spot on the field. The league’s two best in-game coaches will square off, but expect Harbaugh to earn his team an extra possession with some sort of fake or trick play. (An unexpected onside kick against the master of the trade, perhaps?) New Orleans will get a big play or two, but their inability to force takeaways and score big totals on the road will come back to bite them.”
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): Saints 30, 49ers 24
“Smith was during a strong comeback season under Jim Harbaugh, and Harbaugh’s team will fight hard to the end to get the better of Brees. It’s still hard to see New Orleans’ offense stumbling enough for Smith to outduel him, however.”
Andrew Sharp (SB Nation): Saints 31, 49ers 17
“But even next to all the rational reasons pointing to the Niners as a sneaky underdog here, in an NFL Playoff game between Drew Brees and Alex Smith, there’s no way we’re betting on Smith. It just won’t happen, ever.”
Mike Tanier (NY Times Fifth Down Blog): Saints over 49ers
“Pick History repeats itself for the Saints — not 2010 history, but 2009 history, when they cruised past their first-round opponent. Saints”
Sam Monson (Pro Football Focus): Saints over 49ers
“The 49ers’ defense isn’t going to be able to stop the Saints on offense, they just have too many weapons. In order to win, Alex Smith can’t afford to maintain his current level of red zone inefficiency. Unfortunately for San Francisco, this just may well represent his ceiling, and when it comes to the red zone, his inadequacy in this game is going to result in a victory for New Orleans.”
Will Leitch (New York Magazine): Saints over 49ers
The 49ers benefited from a weak division — though one that had made a nice little run to respectability by the end of the year — and has known it was going to host a playoff game pretty much since early October. But they struggled a bit late, and it’s possible that Frank Gore is starting to wear down … It’s pretty amazing what new head coach Jim Harbaugh has been able to pull off in his first season, but the Saints are hot and the weather in San Francisco is gonna be gorgeous (and thus not mess with the Saints’ passing game). If you want to pick Alex Smith over Drew Brees, though, be our guest.
My take: Counting up all the times the Saints and 49ers were picked to win, and in this unscientific grouping the Saints come out ahead: 15-9. 13-9 if you take out AccuScore and SportsNation, and any sane person would probably ignore the latter.
Not surprising that the majority’s siding with New Orleans, since the Saints are favored by 3.5, feature NFL yardage record-holder Drew Brees and won a Super Bowl just two years ago. I’ll post my non-expert prediction later this afternoon.
Update: I forgot about this because I watched “Inside the NFL” so late last night after covering the Warriors game, but “expert” analysts Warren Sapp, Feel Seems and Cris Collinsworth (who hates the 49ers for screwing him out of two Super Bowls) all picked the Niners.