The Saints (3-4) march into this contest, having won three of their last four games. All four of those contests had close finishes. They have won or lost every game this season except for one by six points or fewer.
In contrast, the 49ers (2-6) are nose-diving toward one of the first picks in the next NFL draft. After shutting out the Rams in the season opener, they find themselves on a six-game losing skid. They currently have the worst record in the NFC and only the Browns (0-8) have fewer wins.
San Francisco leads the overall series between these two teams, 48-25-2. The 49ers also hold the advantage when hosting the Saints, 23-11-2. They have won three of the last four games against the Saints, the last meeting taking place in New Orleans in 2014, a 27-24 San Francisco victory.
New Orleans at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 6 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Colin Kaepernick as dual threat to Saints' depleted defense
In seven games, the Saints' opponents have averaged 110.7 rushing yards per contest. However, Devonta Freeman of the Falcons is the sole opponent to exceed 100 yards on the ground against them. The Saints did hold Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, the most mobile quarterbacks they have faced so far, to 11 rushing yards and just one yard, respectively. But both also were impacted by injuries going into those games and neither had many carries (Wilson three, Newton one). New Orleans will face another mobile quarterback this afternoon in Colin Kaepernick and may be hard-pressed to contain him when he runs with linebackers James Laurinaitis and Dannell Ellerbe set to miss this game and position mate Stephone Anthony listed as Questionable to play.
Kaepernick just recently took over as San Francisco’s starting quarterback and has played in just three games this season. In the past two contests, he has run for 66 yards on eight carries against Buffalo and 84 yards on nine attempts vs. Tampa Bay. Could his fleet feet further bolster the 49ers' fourth-ranked rushing attack, which has already exceeded 100 yards in six of the seven games?
2. Saints' anemic pass defense facing 49ers' awful passing offense
The re-insertion of Kaepernick into the starting lineup has not done much to improve San Francisco’s struggles throwing the ball. The 49ers rank last in the NFL in passing offense by a comfortable margin. San Francisco is averaging just 161.4 passing yards game. Buffalo is the next closest team at 179.4. Compare that to New Orleans, first in the league at 326.9 passing yards per game. The 49ers also have as many touchdowns as interceptions, seven each.
While the Saints have had success throwing the ball, they have been able to stop teams from doing the same against them. They are 28th in the league against the pass, giving up an average of 286.7 passing yards per game. Additionally, they have given up nine touchdown passes while only picking off three passes. Is this the game San Francisco finally gets some things done through the air, or are the 49ers just what the doctor ordered for New Orleans’ ailing defense?
3. Motivation at this point of the season for both teams
The 49ers were off last week. Those watching them this season might say that the 49ers have taken off the last six weeks. In those games, they have lost by double digits five times. They find themselves three and a half games behind the Seahawks in the NFC West. The deficit feels deeper considering only one team in the NFL has fewer wins at this point, the 0-8 Cleveland Browns. Will the bye week reignite San Francisco for a strong finish? Or have players already given up on this season?
The Saints endured their own streak of futility to start the season. But since losing their first three games, they have gone 3-1. Another victory this afternoon would keep New Orleans within sight of NFC South leader Atlanta and bring its record to .500. Given the 49ers’ struggles, this is a game Drew Brees and company can ill afford to lose, even if it’s on the road.
The Saints' franchise celebrated its birthday on Tuesday in the midst of their 50th season of existence. Will they give themselves a gift by beating the franchise that bedeviled them in the 1980s and ‘90s? Considering that these 49ers bear no resemblance to their long-time tormenters led by Joe Montana or Steve Young, the New Orleans will reach the halfway point of its schedule at .500.
Prediction: Saints 30, 49ers 20
Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.