After last year’s thriller between the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints, fans had this game circled on the calendar as soon as the 2020 NFL regular season schedule came out. Unfortunately, the Niners have been decimated by injuries, losing basically of their best players and torpedoing their season.
The 49ers and Saints have given us some entertaining contests over the past decade, with five out of their last seven games being decided by four points or less. On paper, this is a total miss-match for New Orleans.
Quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints have won five games in a row and sit on top of the NFC with a 6-2 record. All of New Orleans’ big guns are healthy going into the Week 10 matchup. Receiver Michael Thomas returned to the lineup and helped the Saints hammer their division rivals — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 38-3 last Sunday.
Nick Mullens will make his second-consecutive start for San Francisco. The good news is that the Niners’ offense should get some reinforcements back this week with the return of Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk. Receivers Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne could also play, which should result in an uptick in Mullens’ performance.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan still thinks his team has a shot at getting into the playoffs. If the 49ers can pull off the upset, their hopes of qualifying for the postseason will improve drastically, heading into their BYE Week.
Here are the predictions for Week 10 from Niners Nation contributors:
Kyle Posey: Heading into this season, New Orleans was arguably the lone team in the NFC that was as talented as San Francisco. Fast forward nine weeks and the Saints are getting healthy and peaking as a team, while the 49ers continue to lose talented starters every week. Fair or unfair, those outside of the 49ers building don’t care about the Niners’ injuries and treat those as excuses.
The offense has to find a way to get its ground game going. That won’t be easy against a Saints defense that’s fifth against the run in DVOA and 12th in EPA per rush and rushing success rate. Jerick McKinnon looked better against the Packers and like a runner whose legs were under him. With Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk both expected to play; the passing offense should get a boost. The question now becomes, will the line hold up against the Saints pass rush?
Defensively, I like the matchup for the 49ers. New Orleans isn’t a team that attacks you down the field. They tend to stress you horizontally, and that doesn’t work against the 49ers speed. With D.J. Jones and Javon Kinlaw inside, the Niners run defense has been one of the best in the NFL. Tampa Bay used a “bear front” to slow down the Saints rushing attack, but it opened up quick underneath throws. Keep an eye out on how San Francisco lines up defensively, but they should fare much better than the Bucs.
This game will be close and competitive, but the Saints playmakers will make a difference on both sides of the ball.
Kyle’s prediction: Saints 23-17.
Rob Guerrera: There have been far too many games this year that the 49ers have managed to lose despite everything being in their favor on paper. Maybe this is the week they turn that around and win a game they should lose. The Saints are coming off of a huge divisional win to close out the first half of their schedule. This game kicks off a second-half that isn’t exactly filled with tough games. Is it crazy to think they could take their foot off the gas a little bit seeing Nick Mullens and Jerrick McKinnon coming to town instead of Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert? Maybe, but I’m choosing to be an optimist this week.
Rob’s prediction: SF wins, 24-21
Jas Kang: This looks like it will be an all-or-nothing game for Shanahan and the 49ers. The head coach is focused on still trying to get into the postseason, despite missing most of the high-end talent on the roster. I expect the Saints to crowd the line of scrimmage, similar to how the Packers did last week, and make Mullens complete some deeper throws, which is easier said than done. The New Orleans defense is only giving up 311.6 yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. The unit’s strength is its run defense, which is second in the league, so San Francisco’s rushing attack will be in tough. New Orleans is also tied for seventh in total sacks with 22 on the season. It’s going to be a tough matchup for the undermanned 49ers defense. Without K’Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt in the lineup, it could be a long day for the secondary. Marcell Harris got lit up by Brees and Jared Cook in last year’s game, so I expect Sean Payton to try and take advantage of Harris’ poor coverage skills again. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the Niners will somehow stay in this long enough to make it a game. But, they won’t have enough to overcome the talent gap.
Jas’ prediction: NO wins, 33-24