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Five 49ers to watch against the Saints

Players to keep an eye on when the 49ers travel to New Orleans on Sunday.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are expecting reinforcements before Sunday’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Kyle Shanahan sounded optimistic that a host of starters would make their return to the lineup this week. We’re feeling dangerous here at Niners Nation, focusing on players that are currently on the injury report but are expected to start and assuming the risk of a surprise inactive, thus rendering that particular player unwatchable. Are you ready?

Here are four recovering players to watch (plus one more) in the 49ers’ Week 14 matchup in New Orleans:

LT Joe Staley

Staley struggled in his return to action during the 49ers’ Week 10 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers’ starting left tackle was routinely bested by pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, clearly shaking off the rust of a two-month absence after fracturing his left fibula against the Cincinnati Bengals. Staley took another lump, damaging his finger in his return, an injury that required immediate surgery, and three more missed games. He’s again ready to make his return, but Staley’s effectiveness will be worth watching against a respectable Saints pass rush tied for fourth in the NFL with 40 sacks.

DE Dee Ford

The 49ers are getting better along the opposite side of the trench, as well. Ford missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, but Shanahan sounded optimistic that he could make his return against the Saints. The 49ers pass rusher totaled six sacks, six quarterback hits, and six tackles for loss so far this season and will give the defensive front a significant boost if available. Backup defensive end Ronald Blair tore his ACL against the Seahawks and Damontre Moore, signed to replace Blair, broke his forearm two weeks later. Ford’s return comes at a good time, with depth at his spot waning.

RB Matt Breida

The 49ers backfield has been on fire the last two weeks, averaging over 5.5 yards per carry against the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens. Running back Raheem Mostert authored a career performance against the Ravens, totaling 19 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown, averaging 7.7 yards per run. Despite missing the last three weeks with an ankle injury, Breida is still the 49ers’ leading rusher with 542 yards, averaging five yards per carry. His expected return gives the backfield, along with Tevin Coleman, a significant boost moving forward toward the playoffs. With Mostert showing out last week, Breida’s share of the snaps between the three players will be one to watch.

CB Richard Sherman

Our fourth and final questionable addition to this week’s players to watch. Sherman suffered a knee injury against the Ravens that had the veteran cornerback limping in the locker room after the game. Sherman was quick to say he’d be good-to-go against the Saints, and that seems to be holding true. Shanahan seemed optimistic, along with Sherman, who’s a limited participant in this week’s practices in Florida. Should his conviction not pan out, the 49ers have Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley to hold down the secondary, both of which have been solid this season. If Sherman plays, his success against the league’s leading wideout, Michael Thomas, will be a key matchup to watch.

K Robbie Gould

2019 has been an inconsistent year for Gould, who agreed to a four-year contract with the 49ers during the offseason. After missing just three field goals in the previous two years in San Francisco, the veteran kicker’s missed eight so far this season - a career-worst. Gould’s 51-yard attempt at the end of the first half against the Ravens was tipped and fell short, the 49ers eventually losing by three. Sunday’s matchup against the Saints will be indoors, so the rain and cold experienced in Baltimore won’t play a factor. This Week 14 playoff preview could again come down to Gould’s field goal success.