There are always key matchups that help determine the outcome of the game, and this week is no different.
It also comes as no surprise that the majority of matchups pit offensive players from the Saints against defensive players from the 49ers.
Jermon Bushrod vs. Aldon Smith
Getting pressure on Drew Brees will be paramount. The 49ers typically only send four pass rushers at any given time, allowing seven defenders versus a max of five receivers for the Saints. This means it will take the Saints' receivers just a bit more time to get open.
If Aldon Smith can lead the way for the 49ers pass rush and disrupt the timing of the Saints passing game, it could be a long day for the Saints' offense.
Jahri Evans/Carl Nicks vs. Justin Smith
The Saints have a surprising run offense led by their All-Pro guards. The 49ers' Justin Smith not only made the All-Pro team as a defensive tackle, but he also made it as a second team defensive end. This forces the Saints to become one-dimensional by stopping the run's falls on the matchup of Justin Smith versus the Saints' two guards.
Jimmy Graham vs. Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis' ability to stop the run is both revered and well-documented. It's his coverage against tight ends in the passing game that doesn't get enough credit. Willis, along with some help from the safeties, will be tasked with stopping Jimmy Graham.
Andy Lee vs. Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles is a dynamic return man who routinely puts the Saints' offense in good position. Andy Lee is the NFC's best punter and has consistently helped the 49ers pin the opposing offenses deep in their own territory.
I think good return teams beat bad coverage teams, and great coverage units can dominate good return games. I wouldn't expect much from Darren Sproles this week.
Vernon Davis vs. Jonathan Vilma
Vernon Davis has consistently been double and triple-teamed all year. With only one starting wide receiver left in Week 17, the 49ers relied on Vernon Davis and responded with his biggest game of the year.
I expect more of the same from the 49ers this week as they will go to Davis early, often and in the red zone.