"On any given Sunday," that ancient notion of random equality in the NFL, may be a better basis on which to pick the winner of the 49er-Saints game than on all the premium stats you can find on Profootballfocus.com.
In a playoff game like this, add up the value of all the injuries, subtract outlier values based on field, weather (forecast: 63 degrees; 4 mph wind), crowd noise, biorhythms, and whether the trainer had a fight with his wife the night before, and what's left is that other aphorism: the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
But if you're still searching for the numerical grail—and a not insignificant key to the game—consider once more the stats on San Francisco's offensive line.
Assume for a moment that the 49ers' chances of a win are based more—a little more—on what they can produce than on what they can prevent. In other words, assume they play to their statistical reputation on defense, they still need to play above their statistical reputation on offense.
And they should be able to do that. Although Ginn, Walker and Kyle Williams are questionable I would argue Williams is the greatest loss. And he may play. Gore is rested. The other skill players are ready. And Alex Smith is ready. Everything is in order for him to deliver on a promise.
The only reservation, of course, is with the offensive line, which is ranked 16th overall in the league.
For example, select the data for pass-blocking efficiency, in effect: the total of sacks, hits, and hurries. San Francisco is in the exact middle of the league:
Passes, 520; Sacks allowed, 26; Hits allowed, 24; Hurries allowed, 105
Compare that to pressure allowed by the Saints, ranked 13th:
Passes, 700; Sacks allowed, 15; Hits allowed, 14; Hurries allowed, 105
The problem is well known. Anthony Davis and Adam Snyder are the weak links, and you could add Chilo Richal, although he had relatively little or no effect through the season.
Davis and Snyder have together attracted eight penalties; given up 10 sacks (out of 32) and 9 hits (out of 30).
What's interesting about their overall performance is that during the last six games of the season, they followed a similar bell curve.
Davis's worst game in that stretch, and during the season, was against Baltimore (No. 2 ranked defense), which makes sense, and his best game of the stretch, and during the season, was against Pittsburgh (No. 14 ranked defense), which also makes sense.
Snyder had a similar, slightly flatter arc during those last six games.
Both players ended the season on low notes.
More disturbing is that if you look at "run blocking," Snyder had only one game in the whole season in which he had a positive rating. For his part, Davis didn't have the lows but he had negative ratings for all but one of the last six games.
So what does any of this mean? Nothing, particularly if you accept the premise that on "any given Sunday"—or in this case, Saturday—any team can beat any other team. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the Saints target these two players and how well Davis and Snyder have prepared themselves.