Neil Harvey casts his expert eye across San Francisco's visit to New Orleans and can only see success for the home team...
"New Orleans have been unstoppable at home this season. They’ve won all four of their games, and done so by an average margin of more than 23 points. The odds on them doing so again are very juicy and well worth taking a chance on."
San Francisco 49ers @ New Orleans Saints
Start Time: Sunday, 21:25
TV: Live on Sky Sports 2
This contest looks like being a battle been San Francisco's ground attack and the passing game of New Orleans.
For the 49ers, Frank Gore looks set to play a major role. As the spearhead of San Francisco's fourth ranked rushing offense, Gore is averaging close to 80 yards per game. And with seven touchdowns already in the bag, he's well on course to break his personal record of 10 TDs in a season. This Sunday, he'll face a Saints defence that's been giving up five yards per carry and ranks just 23rd in the league at stopping the run. For Gore, running in the warm, dry safety of the Superdome, and against a defence like that, looks like a good match-up. With five of his seven scores so far having come on the road, Gore looks odds-on to hit paydirt once again here.
Two weeks ago, the Saints were shot down by a Jets team who's game plan was based almost entirely on running the ball. Chris Ivory rushed for 139 yards and a TD in that game, at an average of almost eight yards per carry. When you consider that the 49ers have scored 15 rushing touchdowns compared to the Jets' five this season, then you really have to fancy San Francisco's chances of doing some damage with their ground game this week.
And playing a significant role in that could be 49ers quarterback Colin Kapaernick. There's no doubt, Kap had a game-to-forget the last week against Carolina's number two ranked defense, who sacked him six times, and kept him to just 91 yards passing. But Kapaernick's passing game is largely reliant on his ability to run. When the linebackers are worrying about him busting a move, which the Saints linebackers should be, then that opens up more space and greater opportunities for San Francisco's receivers.
But stop the bus! Of huge concern to 49ers fans has to be the likely absence of tight end Vernon Davis. His concussion, suffered against the Panthers last week, looks set to keep him out of this game. And that spells disaster for the 49ers passing game, given that Davis has scored seven of San Francisco's nine receiving touchdowns this season. Outside of him, only one other player has caught a TD this year. That's Anquan Boldin. And the last of his two scores came way back in Week Four. The stats also show that when Vernon Davis doesn't take to the field, Colin Kaepernick suffers horribly, with his quarterback rating dropping from an average of above 80, to somewhere below 50 when Davis isn't there.
New Orleans meanwhile, can always rely on their number two ranked passing game. But it's likely they'll try to establish the run first. Upset at the way his side had been gored by the running game of the Jets in their previous game, Saints head coach Sean Payton made a point of trying to establish the run last Sunday against the Cowboys. And it was a move that paid-off handsomely, as Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles combined for more than 200 yards rushing. And far from detracting from New Orleans' famed passing game, it actually served to compliment it, with Drew Brees still racking-up almost 400 yards and four touchdowns on the day.
San Francisco are famous for their tough defense. But they'd prefer mud, rain and wind to the cosy confines of the Superdome. And in all honesty, 12th against the run and eighth against the pass, is not the 49ers defence that teams have come to fear in recent years.
With little chance of moving the ball through the air, San Francisco will be entirely reliant upon their running game and early-on Frank Gore should see plenty of the ball. But if they fall behind, the 49ers will be forced to turn Kaepernick to throw the ball, and this is where it's all likely to fall apart.
New Orleans have been unstoppable at home this season. They've won all four of their games, and done so by an average margin of more than 23 points. The odds on them doing so again are very juicy and well worth taking a chance on. I can't see any way they'll lose this game and I think they should make it five big wins in a row. San Francisco's best work should come in the first half, with Gore set to be their brightest spark on an otherwise gloomy day. And with the Saints likely to run the ball early-on too, I fancy the chances of a running play nabbing the first touchdown.
New Orleans (-4) to win @ EVENS (Sportsbook)
New Orleans total points over 26.5 @ 20/23 (Sportsbook)
New Orleans to win by more than 12 points @ 13/2 (Sportsbook)