Beating the 49ers key to returning to sunny Miami

By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports

Raise your hand if you had a blast during the first week of February 2010 in Miami?

Thought so.

The weather was great, Saints fans outnumbered their Colts brethren like 3 to 1 and, of course, the Saints finished off the week with a victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV.

Ten years later, would you like to go back?

Then your team needs to win this game Sunday against the 49ers.

Yes, we have heard all week from both locker rooms that it is the big game because it is the next game. But, the loser of this game likely will not be the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Instead of being the top seed, the Saints could very well wind up as the No. 3 seed, which goes to the division winner with third-best overall record.

New Orleans could be home against a very good Minnesota Vikings club in the wild-card round. The Saints then might have to play the next week in frigid Green Bay. And, then, they would head to San Francisco for the NFC Championship Game.

That would be a very difficult three-game gauntlet, even for the most talented of teams.

The 49ers have built their team much like the Saints built theirs. They did not find their franchise quarterback via the draft and invested heavily in first-round picks on offensive and defensive lines.

Even in a three-point loss, in a driving rain, on the road, San Francisco came within a whisker of snapping Baltimore’s eight-game winning streak.

However, San Francisco has also benefitted from an easy schedule. The 49ers have two wins over Arizona and victories over Washington and Cincinnati.

A key matchup in the game will be the San Francisco defensive line against the Saints’ offensive line. The 49ers have 45 sacks, second-most in the NFL. That consistent heat on the passer has helped the 49ers force 24 turnovers in 12 games.

Ten years ago, during the week of the Super Bowl, South Beach turned black and gold. A team that had won its first 13 regular-season games was poised to win its first Super Bowl crown.

Raise your hand if you would like to go back?

Thought so.

If so, the Saints have to win the biggest game of the regular season. Beat the 49ers, and like 2009, have a chance to be home for two games – or play three games, the last two on the road.

Ignore the coach-speak you’ve heard this week. The most important game of the season has arrived.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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