ST. LOUIS, MO - JANUARY 1: Wide receiver Michael Crabtree #15 and quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate Crabtree's touchdown in the first half of the game on January 1, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. The 49ers defeated the Rams 34-27. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)
I hate to forgo my excitement regarding the 49ers playoff status but I want to get down to brass tax and open up discussion on the biggest question on my mind -- 'Who would I prefer the 49ers host at Candlestick in the divisional playoff round?'
On January 14th, the San Francisco 49ers will compete against either the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints or New York Giants to advance to the NFC Championship. Since the 49ers have a bye week this weekend, I'll be pulling for the teams I would most want San Francisco to have to face. Typically the best team wins but according to strengths and weaknesses, amongst other variables, I've been wondering which team of these three the 49ers would be best off seeing in the playoffs.
The great thing about facing any of these three teams is that the 49ers will have home field advantage and a weeks rest that their opponent didn't have. Follow me after the jump for discussion about the 49ers three potential opponents and what the best possible scenarios could be.
In order of teams I would most prefer to face to the least
1. Atlanta Falcons
I have to say the Falcons are the team the 49ers would most want to see between these three teams, for a number of reasons. I believe most 49er fans recall the last two games between Atlanta and San Francisco -- with that said, if the 49ers were headhunters looking for revenge, the Falcons would be near the top of their list. The Falcons also rely on their franchise running back in Michael Turner to help get the offense going.
In 2011, the 49ers have displayed an uncanny ability to virtually remove the opposing team's tailbacks from the gameplan. This will put the Falcons back on their heels and more one dimensional, which is when the 49ers typically start getting turnovers. Atlanta's knack for going downfield and creating big plays through the air is proven and scary with Roddy White and Julio Jones. However, San Francisco has excelled at limiting those opportunities this year, making offenses play a more simplified version of their game.
2. New York Giants
The battle between the Giants and Saints for the team I would least prefer was closer than I thought because of the Giants ability to show up and play great football for 60 minutes any given game. The Giants pass rush on a good day and the 49ers offensive line on a bad day could end the 49ers run in an instant. But the pass protection has been good as the 49ers had not turned the ball over in their last 5 games.
The receivers are dangerous and Eli Manning has playoff experience and plays well in the clutch. There is also something that is both good and bad: the 49ers and Giants have played each other already this season. I view this as a good thing because the Niners have game film and familiarity with the personnel. The 49ers also now know they can beat the Giants even when they show up and play good football.
However, this is a bad thing because the Giants have that same game film to refer back to. And this is scary because the 3 teams that played San Francisco twice this season, played them better the second time around -- one team even winning in the Arizona Cardinals.
3. New Orleans Saints
I'm sure most of you were certain that the Saints were going to be the team I would least like San Francisco to face, but why wouldn't they be? This team is high scoring, Super Bowl champs from two years ago, led by a record-setting quarterback in Drew Brees who is a top candidate for league MVP. It's hard to contain Brees, yet the 49ers of last year were so close.
A team without Aldon Smith, Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, an active Kyle Williams or a Kendall Hunter took the field, led by Mike Singletary and Alex Smith and nearly defeated the defending Super Bowl champs. This is a much improved team, and now it has a methodical and disciplined offense to combat the Saints high scoring capability by limiting their opportunities. The 49ers were top 5 and 10 in most defensive statistical categories in the 2011 regular season; a record-setting defense with multiple Pro Bowlers and playmakers.
If the 49ers intend on making a legitimate run at the Super Bowl, they will likely have to go through Green Bay in the NFC Championship. If the 49ers have to play the Saints, it could be a great opportunity to prepare and practice for what the Packers will be bringing.The Saints and Packers have the leagues most elite offenses who can score an extraordinary amount of points in a single ball game, but it can be neutralized (See: NO vs SEA, GB vs KC).
If these match-ups are to happen, and there is a very good chance they do, it will make for quite the entertaining postseason in the NFC. But great defenses can subdue great offenses, even in the playoffs. To point out a relatively recent example, it would be like the Super Bowl featuring the top offense in the Oakland Raiders and the top defense in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where defense reigned supreme. Hopefully that will again be the case.
Who would you most prefer the 49ers face in divisional playoff game at Candlestick?
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