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Saints vs. 49ers: Five things to watch

Saints need to contain Colin Kaepernick

1. CAP COLIN. The key to San Francisco's offense is dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and the New Orleans Saints obviously would love to take away his running threat and make him a pocket passer. Carolina did a great job of that last week in a 10-9 victory over San Francisco; Kaepernick ran four times for 16 yards and passed for 91 yards, completing just 11 of 22 passes. If New Orleans' defense can come anywhere close to matching that, it'll be a great day for the Saints. Kaepernick, in fact, hasn't approached his star status and numbers from a season ago. So far this year, he has completed 124 of 220 passes for 1,675 yards and nine touchdowns, with six interceptions, and has rushed for 310 yards and three touchdowns on 53 carries. He gashed the Saints for 231 passing yards and a touchdown and 27 rushing yards and a touchdown last year in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This is a different Saints defense than that one.

2. HOME FIRE BURNING. Speaking of the Superdome, the Saints have been unbeatable at home this season. They're 5-0 and winning by an average score of 35-15, with the last four wins coming by margins of 24, 21, 18 and 32 points. Each home win gives NFC opponents more reason to dread coming to New Orleans for a playoff game, and the Saints definitely want to beat the 49ers for a couple of reasons. First, San Francisco is 6-3, so a head-to-head win against a potential division champion is a good thing. Second, the Niners have two straight wins over the Saints and New Orleans wants to end that surge. Third, a team has to be physical in order to beat San Francisco, so it'd be a good win for the resume and psyche.

3. AVERAGE PROBABLY WILL DO. The numbers say that the Niners will be difficult to run against. Opponents average 105.3 yards per game on 27 carries, 3.9 yards per attempt. The guess here is that if the Saints are in that vicinity, they'll be happy with the outcome. New Orleans needs to run it enough to keep the Niners honest on defense. It doesn't need a repeat performance from Sunday night (242 rushing yards, most ever by the Saints under Coach Sean Payton, and three touchdowns on 38 carries). That'd be nice, but it also would be utopia. Reality is if the Saints have enough rushing attempts, the balance will be enough to allow the passing game to do its thing even though the Niners pass defense (2,045 yards and 10 touchdowns allowed, with 10 interceptions) is exceptional.

4. HAVE STICKY FINGERS. Only eight teams have forced more turnovers than San Francisco's 18. The last thing the Saints will want to do is give the Niners an extra possession or two, so quarterback Drew Brees and his offense will be on high alert, as usual, in terms of ball security. They'll have to be especially mindful of San Francisco's ability to force fumbles – the Niners have forced 14 and recovered eight; only four teams have more fumble recoveries.

5. NO SECRETS HERE. When Kaepernick does throw, he's going to be looking for tight end Vernon Davis, and with good reason. Davis has 30 catches for 520 yards (17.3 yards per catch) but more than that, he's caught seven of Kaepernick's nine touchdown passes. Davis missed most of last week's game after sustaining a concussion early, and San Francisco's offense badly needed him. So he might not be available Sunday but if he is, as much as Brees loves his tight end, Jimmy Graham, Brees hasn't leaned on Graham nearly as heavily for his scoring tosses (Graham has 10 of Brees' 25 touchdowns) as Kaepernick has leaned on Davis. The Saints know the drill: Find Davis, smother him if possible, and the Niners passing game could stall.

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