THERE'S no doubt about it – all eyes will be firmly fixed on Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday as the 10-2 Saints welcome the 10-2 49ers. ESPN's Nat Coombs shares his view of what his shaping up to be a thriller in New Orleans, and two more clashes for good measure.
In one of the games of the season, two 10-2 NFC heavyweights square off in New Orleans, as the race for the top playoff seeds continues. It’s back-to-back road games for San Francisco, who narrowly lost last week in Baltimore, whilst the Saints coasted to a 26-18 win over a Falcons side that had shocked them a few weeks ago.
The 49ers are a balanced side, though it’s their defense that’s exceptional, 45 sacks and counting, a league-leading 17 forced fumbles, in the number one overall ranked unit. How the Saints will hold up to the pressure of facing an elite unit, and whether the New Orleans offensive line can both protect Drew Brees and establish a running game for Alvin Kamara and co will be critical. Give Brees enough time, and draw attention in different areas of the field, and the future HOFer will make hay, particularly with an in-form WR Michael Thomas (five 100+ yard games in his last six starts, with three TDs) as his primary go to-guy, and the trick play options provided by Taysom Hill, schemed by one of the best offensive minds in the business in Sean Payton.
The 49ers can mix it up offensively too of course, particularly on the ground, and one of the best ground games in the league goes up against a strong Saints run-D which allows just 88.6 yards per game, third fewest in the NFL. The return of TE George Kittle has been essential in (re-) establishing the run for San Francisco, with his blocking capabilities underpinning his overall offensive contribution, and Jimmy Garoppolo has a variety of weapons at his disposal alongside Kittle. The line is relatively low, because of the strength in both defenses, but I can see the Saints push for a fast start, San Fran keep pace, and a thriller ensuing.
49ers vs Saints with the top seed at stake next week pic.twitter.com/IfFTE1UxMr
— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) December 1, 2019
One of the form teams in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans have been revived by the cast-off Ryan Tannehill, former Dolphins QB who signed as a backup in Nashville, and won the starting job from the enigmatic Marcus Mariota, transforming the Titans offense in the process. He’s a level above a game manager, without having elite playmaking ability and that works just fine, with Derrick Henry in red hot shape leading the ground game, and a defense populated with some wily unsug vets like Wesley Woodyard, Kevin Byard and Jurell Casey.
Oakland have been so refreshing this season under Jon Gruden, but his young team has possibly run out of steam at crunch time. A couple of disappointing defeats puts their confidence at a low ebb as their playoff chances drift, and whilst they may be more competitive back at home, the Titans should get the road win.
Pick: Titans -3
Baltimore won a thriller against San Francisco last weekend with Justin Tucker, the best kicker in the business, securing the win with the last kick of the game, and they roll on to another stern test in Buffalo. The Bills have gone under the radar for many, but have quietly put themselves into the reckoning without many stars, more a collection of solid pros, coached well.
A capable defense keeps them in contention in most games, but the Ravens aren’t most teams. The Bills faithful will be in fine voice, and this won’t be a blowout, but the Ravens D can keep Josh Allen’s running in check, and I can’t see how Buffalo puts up enough points to keep up with the Lamar Jackson pace.
Pick: Ravens -6