49ers holding out hope that they haven’t played their last game at the ‘Stick

By Morris Phillips

The NFL’s hottest team is about to hit the road for the playoffs.  And while the 49ers might be plenty comfortable at Lambeau Field on Sunday for their meeting with the Packers, and just as comfortable in Charlotte to face the Panthers the following Sunday, the team and their fans wouldn’t mind a final farewell at the ‘Stick on January 19 for the NFC Championship Game.

And what might the odds be that the 49ers could play one more game at their home for the last 43 seasons and become the first No. 5 seed to host a conference championship game?

Probably right around 5 percent.  But here’s how it could happen:

The 49ers would have to beat the Packers on Sunday, after the Saints go into Philadelphia and knock off the NFC East champion Eagles on Saturday.  Then the Saints would have go into insanely noisy Century Link Field, and beat the top-seeded Seahawks, when they couldn’t pull off the feat on December 2, losing 34-7.  The next day the 49ers would have to turn the tables on the Panthers, reversing the result of their November 10 loss to Carolina at the ‘Stick, 10-9.

Yes, four playoff games, four road winners, and at least one extremely unlikely result in a New Orleans upset of the Seahawks.  And now you see why the feat has never been accomplished, although the 2010 NFC playoffs in which No. 4 seed Arizona became the lowest-seeded team to host a conference championship came pretty darn close.

The scenario has just as much to do with the Saints as the 49ers, so in taking a closer look let’s start with Drew Brees and the Saints.  The Eagles have been installed as an early 2 ½ point favorite over the Saints on Saturday, mostly because New Orleans—3-5 on the road in 2013—has been far less formidable team in away games than they have been at home in the Superdome.  But the “over-under” is 55 points, the highest number of any of next weekend’s four games which portends a shootout.  And the Saints, Brees and Coach Sean Payton could tip the scales with the experience factor as they have plenty more of that then Nick Foles, Coach Chip Kelly and the youthful Eagles.

If the Saints win there, then they go into Seattle (regardless of whether the 49ers win or not) where they would hope to take advantage of a weakened Seahawks’ secondary as well as a Russell Wilson-led offense that has struggled to make plays down field in recent weeks.

If nothing else, the Saints collectively have a long memory.  They visited Seattle in the 2011 wild card round as defending Super Bowl champs and fell 41-36 to the 7-9 Seahawks.   If beating a good team three straight times (over three seasons) is extremely difficult than maybe, just maybe, the pressure might be on Seattle.

With the narrow win over the Cardinals on Sunday, the 49ers improved to 17-7 on the road in three seasons under Coach Jim Harbaugh.  That’s the best such mark in the NFL over that span, and really illustrates what a difficult opponent the 49ers will be come next week.  Also factor in a league-best six-game win streak heading into the playoffs and the relative health of the team after a September and October littered with missing pieces and you can see why the 49ers have been installed as the early favorite over the Packers by 2 ½ points.

Following that the 49ers would get the Panthers and Cam Newton in Charlotte where they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008.  The 49ers would enjoy the edge in experience here as well although they would be unlikely to be favored.  But the Panthers could be without receiver Steve Smith, and for sure they won’t have the surprise factor they enjoyed when the two teams met the first time in San Francisco.

Sound plausible?  Sure it does when you—insert the old football axiom here—just take it one game at a time.

49ers report: A Crabtree return can really spark this offense

by David Zizmor
SANTA CLARA–The 49ers had tough back to back games and they had that terrible loss when they played the Saints in New Orleans and as we all know the Superdome is not an easy place to play. Sometimes the lights go out sometimes you have to face a good team and you really never know what your going to face. The 49ers really faced a really good New Orleans team that’s one of the best in the NFC if not the entire NFL.
The Niners lost by a field goal and it’s really rough, there were a couple of key plays in this game the most obvious one of them all Amad Brooks with the sack and the forced fumble of the New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees late in the fourth quarter that could have clinched the game. The referees called a roughing the passer personal foul for a 15 yard penalty that wiped out a sack and fumble that the 49ers recovered.
It was a questionable call taking a look at the replay Brooks really walloped Brees it looked like a legal hit. It was kind of closeline it was high on Brees chest but that’s a legal hit if you hit him in the chest. The official thought it was more in the neck area which wouldn’t be legal but watching the replay it sure look to me like it hit Brees in the chest and maybe after the hit his arm slid up higher towards his neck.
That was a play that turned the entire game around if the 49ers get that fumble recovery that’s probably the gamer which it makes incredibly difficult for the Saints to win. It definitely gives the Niners a better opportunity to win. There are several problems that the 49ers are trying to solve right now. One the receiving core is just not coming through Anquan Boldin had a nice grab and so did Vernon Davis.
The 49ers passing game was really non existent their really working things through and maybe in addition to Mario Manningham it’s helping but the 49ers have not really been active in the passing since Michael Crabtree outside of that first game of the season against Green Bay Crabtree really seemed to make this offense go last year. Once Kaeppernick became the quarterback Crabtree really blossomed and really opened things up for the receiving core and everything else.
So the 49ers could get Crabtree in a couple of weeks I don’t think it’s going to be this week against Washington on Monday night you never know but there was no report to indicate that Crabtree is going to be back. That Saints game was tough and the 49ers really have to move past that game because their going into Washington on a Monday night it’s another road game with a national audience and playoff seeding is not aligned in this one the 49ers have more or less lost the NFC west unless Seattle suffers a big collapse.
The 49ers have to focus on the wild card, they have to focus on seeding and just making the wild card, because technically speaking they’re tied with four other teams for that wild card position. Washington has been playing very poorly this season their coming off another loss this time to Philadelphia. Washington has not looked good their not the team they were last year when they made the playoffs behind Robert Griffin III.
Daivd Zizmor covers the NFL for Sportstalk Radio