49ers vs. Saints: Game-Breakers for Each Team in Colossal NFC Showdown
Drew Brees and Frank Gore will anchor their teams through the air and on the ground, respectively, this weekend when the the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers clash inside the Superdome in a game with major postseason implications.
The Niners are poised for a return to the playoffs this January, while the Saints have little room for error after a horrendous 0-4 start to the year.
Here we get you set for Sunday afternoon's epic showdown with a look at the game-breakers for each team.
San Francisco 49ers' Game-Breakers
Aldon Smith, DE
Second-year wrecking ball Aldon Smith is making mince meat of opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks this season, recording a league-best 15 sacks through San Francisco's first 10 games. He had 5.5 sacks last Monday night against the Chicago Bears.
Smith has 10.5 sacks combined in his last four games, and has three forced fumbles as well this season.
Jim Harbaugh will need his 6'4", 260-pound pass-rusher to be at his best inside the cranked-up Superdome on Sunday afternoon if the Niners are to prevent Drew Brees from settling in and picking apart their secondary.
Smith certainly has momentum on his side after a dominant outing in Week 11, but nothing will come easy for him on the road against a quality offensive line in New Orleans.
Vernon Davis, TE
Who will be San Francisco's leading receiver on Sunday?
Niners tight end Vernon Davis' targets and receptions have been steadily increasing over the past three weeks and that's good news for San Francisco.
Although Michael Crabtree is technically the team's leading receiver this season, Davis brings every bit as much speed and skill to the table as a pass-catcher. Davis is averaging nearly 14 yards per catch in 2012, compared to Crabtree's 11.5 YPC
Davis is not only a big target, but a reliable one for whichever quarterback drops back for San Francisco on Sunday. Whether it's Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith or both, Davis will be open and ready to change the game on every reception.
New Orleans Saints' Game-Breakers
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, RB
Mark Ingram has been running with purpose during the Saints' current three-game winning streak. The former Alabama Crimson Tide back is averaging over five yards per carry for New Orleans in the month of November and scored a touchdown on the ground last week against Oakland.
Like Aldon Smith, Ingram is in his second NFL season, and despite his early-season struggles, Ingram is breathing new life into a team that began 2012 0-4 and was 2-5 coming into November.
Ingram's two longest runs of the season have come within the Saints' last three games, and that speaks to Ingram's renewed confidence and his sense of urgency in New Orleans' back field.
Jonathan Vilma, LB
Over/Under 23.8 points for the 49ers on Sunday?
The Saints are 4-1 since the return of their veteran middle linebacker, Jonathan Vilma. Although Vilma's production hasn't been through the roof like many would expect, his presence and leadership on the defensive side has helped New Orleans to be good enough to win on that side of the ball.
Vilma has 13 tackles and one sack this season. However, the Saints went from giving up 30.8 points per game in the five games without Vilma to 23.8 points per game with him.
That's a noticeable improvement if you ask me. Vilma may not be a statistical game-breaker like San Francisco's Aldon Smith, but there's no doubt that his Super Bowl experience, high football IQ and leadership traits make him a game-breaker in his own right.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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