A few weeks ago it appeared the San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1) would have few issues with the struggling New Orleans Saints (5-5). But since then, Jim Harbaugh's team has looked suspect against the St. Louis Rams and unstoppable versus the Chicago Bears.
The battle of an elite defense vs. an elite offense should be quite entertaining. Following are the key details for the matchup.
When: Sunday, Nov. 25 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
TV: Fox (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via OddsShark)
There isn't much more proof needed that the Saints are back. They are even odds with one of the best teams in the NFL.
The Saints offense speaks for itself, but the defense has been showing marginal improvement the last three games.
Drew Brees and the Saints offense should be able to score on any defense, especially at home. They face one of the best on Sunday but the Saints have enough offensive weapons to threaten the 49ers.
San Francisco did some scoring of its own last week. The New Orleans defense has been suspect, which should allow this game to reach the over.
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com as of 7 a.m. Friday)
Tarell Brown, CB, Limited Participation (knee)
Chris Culliver, CB, Limited (shoulder),
Dashon Goldson S, Limited (ribs, calf)
Alex Smith, QB, Limited (concussion)
Frank Gore, RB, Full (wrist, ribs)
Randy Moss, WR, Full (finger)
Aldon Smith, LB, Full (shoulder)
C.J. Spillman, S, Full (finger)
Will Tukuafu, DT, Full (wrist, wrist)
Patrick Willis, LB, Full (shoulder)
Charles Brown, T, Did not Practice (knee)
Junior Galette, DE, DNP (ankle)
Ramon Humber, LB, DNP (illness), CB
Elbert Mack, CB, DNP (concussion)
Corey White, CB, DNP (knee)
Zach Strief, T, Limited Participation (groin)
Darren Sproles, RB, Full Participation (hand)
Fantasy Big Plays
San Francisco: RB Frank Gore
Gore continues to be one of the best running backs in the NFL, but his production has waned in recent weeks. Harbaugh has looked to move the ball through the air and the 49ers have given Kendall Hunter more carries since Gore's rib injury.
If there was a time to turn Gore loose this is it.
The Saints have the worst run defense in the NFL based on yards per game allowed. Gore and the 49ers should be able to trap and exploit issues along their front seven.
Projected Stats: 23 carries, 136 yards, 1 TD, 2 Receptions, 16 yards
New Orleans: QB Drew Brees
This is an easy, obvious target but Brees is the standout fantasy player for the Saints almost every week. He'll be facing a tough defense but he's one of the quarterbacks that are as close to defense-proof as there is.
The Saints have ample targets at receiver, tight end and out of the backfield to disperse the ball. This game could be the biggest tally of passing yards surrendered by the 49ers all season.
This would also be the first time Brees has thrown for over 300 yards in five games. He'll need to in order to keep pace with the 49ers and to offset a ground game that will have difficulty with San Francisco.
Projected Stats: 28-of-42, 342 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT
Key to Victory
There has been some uncertainty this week over who would be the starting quarterback for the 49ers on Sunday. Alex Smith's job is in jeopardy and it looks like Harbaugh will give the start to Colin Kaepernick based on his performance against the Bears defense.
REPORT: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh informs Colin Kaepernick he will start Sunday over Alex Smith (via @si_jimtrotter)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 22, 2012
His performance was certainly impressive. He was dropping balls over the top of defenders and hitting receivers in stride.
But the Bears weren't forcing him to make many reads or decisions. It seems odd to move away from a quarterback that has been as efficient as Smith.
Brees will find openings and put points on the board. The 49ers will need to decide who can best keep up with him.
This has the feel of one of the more exciting games of the season. It pits strength against strength with two teams loaded with talent.
I'll give the nod to the home team in this contest. Strip in; this should be a wild game.
Final Score: New Orleans 34, San Francisco 31
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.