Saturday Divisional NFL Playoff Picks: 49ers host Saints in NFC showdown

New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, 1/14/12, 4:30 PM EST, TV:  FOX
Opening Point Spread:  New Orleans -3
Current Betting Line:  New Orleans -3.5
Opening Total:  47
Current Total:  47
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

49ers vs. Saints NFC Playoff Preview
San Francisco QB Alex Smith hopes to lead his team to a victory in his first playoff appearance.

The New Orleans Saints will go for their first-ever postseason road win when they visit the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday at Candlestick Park in the divisional round of the playoffs.  The third-seeded Saints (14-3) are 0-4 all-time on the road in the playoffs and will face a San Francisco team that lost just once at home during the regular season.

The second-seeded 49ers (13-3) suffered a 27-24 overtime loss to Dallas in Week 2 at home but have won six in a row there both straight-up and against the spread since then.  In fact, they are 7-0-1 ATS at home overall and covered a 25-22 loss to New Orleans at Candlestick last year as 4.5-point underdogs.

The NFC West champion Saints (-3.5, O/U 47) have won nine in a row both SU and ATS but could have a hard time keeping up their current scoring pace against a San Francisco defense that surrendered just 10.9 points per game at home during the regular season.  They have scored six touchdowns in each of their last four games – all of which have gone OVER the total – including a 45-28 rout of Detroit last Saturday.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees continued his torrid play of late, throwing for 466 yards against the Lions with three touchdowns while running backs Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory combined for 164 rushing yards on 31 carries and scored three touchdowns.  Brees has never lost to the 49ers, going 5-0 with 1,475 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.  He has thrown for 307 yards or more with at least two touchdowns in eight straight games, including last week’s playoff victory.

San Francisco is back in the postseason for the first time since winning the NFC West in 2002, and Jim Harbaugh should be a lock for NFL Coach of the Year honors after turning around a team that went 3-13 last year into a division champion again.  Harbaugh believed in former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, who enjoyed his best year under center for the 49ers with 3,144 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

Smith outdueled Brees through the air in the last meeting, throwing for 275 yards compared to 254 for the Saint, but he also threw two picks.  San Francisco RB Frank Gore had 112 rushing yards on 20 carries against New Orleans and scored two touchdowns.  The Saints may also have to rely even more on Brees because the 49ers own the league’s top-ranked run defense, allowing just 77.3 yards per game and an NFL-low three touchdowns on the ground.

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