By Tom Pollin
Cold, Hard Football Facts Division Round Reporter

The San Francisco 49ers won their final three regular season games to hold back the New Orleans Saints for the No. 2 seed and first round bye in the playoffs. As a reward they get to host the runaway offense of the Saints on Saturday after spending last weekend letting their various injuries and bruises heal a bit from the long 16 game season.

While the 49ers were home watching on TV to see who they would host, Drew Brees was playing dueling quarterbacks with Matthew Stafford. The Lions soon realized they had no answer for what Brees and his offense could do and the Saints pulled away for a 45-28 victory.

This game is going to be the unmovable force meeting the irresistible object; an offense that can bury you before you know you’ve been hit against one of the elite defensive units in the league. It’s the first playoff game of the weekend and the way the Quality Stats line up between these two, it could be the very best of the four.

Out of all the offensive statistical categories, the Saints are no lower than No. 6, in Scoreability with a 13.66 Yards per Point average (or 95.6 yards gained for every seven scored). They get to face a defense that’s No. 1 in Bendability, the statistical counterpart to Scoreability. The 49ers force teams to drive 21.53 Yards per Point (or offenses have to drive an astounding 150.7 yards for every seven points scored).

Since everyone has been wondering if the effectiveness of the Saints offense will hold up when going on the road for their Divisional Round game, I broke out just their road stats for the season to see how they stack up. Their Scoreability average goes up to 16.21 Yards per Point (or 113.5 yards for every seven) when they’re on the road. Thomas Morstead might get to punt once or twice on Saturday and see his name in the box score.

That’s not the rough part for New Orleans. At home, the 49ers Bendability average toughens up to 27.9 Yards per Point (or 194.9 yards per every seven). That’s forcing opponents to drive close to the length of TWO football fields to score the equivalent of a touchdown plus extra point. Now that’s a home field advantage folks! The Saints may yet regret that week 8 debacle in St. Louis.

Being on their home field also helps the 49ers’ offense, Their Scoreability average goes to 11.73 Yards per Point (or 82.1 yards per every seven). The only game the 49ers lost at home this season was in week 2, in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys 27-24. That’s also the most points they gave up at home this season.

Overall, Drew Brees is No. 2 in both Real Quarterback Rating and Offensive Passer Rating with the 49ers No. 5 on the defensive side in those averages. Brees is also No. 3 with a 7.79 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average and the 49ers’ defense is No. 10 in the league against, giving up an average of 5.96 Real Passing Yards per Attempt.

In the running game the Saints will be putting their No. 1 rated Offensive Hog unit against the 49ers No. 2 rated Defensive Hogs. The Saints are No. 4 in Rushing Yards per Attempt against the 49ers’ No. 1 ranked rush defense. The 49ers didn’t give up a rushing touchdown until their game against the Seahawks in week 16 when Marshawn Lynch finally dented the goal line against them.

The Saints are No. 1 in the other two measures that make up the Offensive Hog Index, allowing Negative Pass Plays and Third Down Success. The combination of his line protection and quick release makes Drew Brees a difficult quarterback to hurry, much less sack.

With the 49ers on offense against the Saints defense there was a time when that would have been a compelling matchup, but hasn’t been that way for a few years. Still, since the rules require those units to play in the game there are a couple of numbers that are worth watching.
Alex Smith has improved quite a bit this season under Jim Harbaugh and for a player who’s never discussed in any quarterback conversations he ranks No. 8 in Offensive Passer Rating and No. 10 in Real Quarterback Rating. Alex Smith is also tied for first with Tim Tebow and Eli Manning in comeback wins with five.

The 49ers rank No. 26 in the Offensive Hog Index against the Saints No. 21 ranked Defensive Hogs, quite a change from the other side of the ball for both teams. Frank Gore rushed for over 1,200 yards this season and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. He’ll be running against a Saints’ defense that’s No. 29 in yards per carry average.

The one area on defense where the Saints do a good job is preventing third down success. The 49ers are No. 31 in third down success on offense.

A couple of more indicators to look at for this game, in the Quality Stats Power Rankings, the 49ers are No. 3 and the Saints are No. 5. In the Relativity Index, which measures a team against the quality of its competition, the Saints are No. 1 and the 49ers are No. 4. The team with the higher ranking in the Relativity Index has won 67 percent of their games this past season.
The 49ers haven’t been in the playoffs since losing at Tampa Bay in 2002. The Saints will be attempting to win their first road playoff game in the franchise’s history this Saturday. They’re currently 0-4. The Saints have a six game winning streak over the 49ers though and Drew Brees is 5-0 against them.

It all winds up as, for every stat the Saints can throw against the 49ers on offense, the 49ers have advantages in other areas. If you want to look at trends, do the 49ers break their losing streak against the Saints, two of those Saints wins were in San Francisco? Do the Saints add the one playoff milestone victory that still eludes them?

There’s only one recommendation I can make in a game where the Saints are favored by 3-1/2 points but there’s no overwhelming statistical or trend advantage one team enjoys over the other. Hunker down with a big sandwich, or pizza, barbecue, chili or any other perfect food (calories don’t count if you eat these or other foods while watching football); make sure there is plenty of your beverage of choice available and get ready for a playoff battle.