Niners rookie pass rusher Aldon Smith is one of the reasons San Francisco may be tough in the playoffs. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Offense is flashy and eye-catching, the bling that attracts attention and fans.
So when the 49ers are compared with the Packers and Saints, the Niners often are the overlooked ugly duckling in the mix, a No. 2 seed hidden between the high-scoring, top-seeded Packers and third-seeded Saints.
Yet if the NFC playoffs play out as expected, the Niners will likely have to beat each to get to a Super Bowl.
After earning a bye with a victory over St. Louis Sunday, the 49ers will host a division-round game Saturday, Jan. 14, against the Saints if New Orleans can beat the Lions this Saturday. And if San Francisco can beat the Saints, it likely would have to face the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Having just completed a 13-3 season based on terrific defense and solid execution in all phases of the game, the 49ers aren’t worried that they’re going to get steamrolled.
“If we take care of business, it doesn’t matter who we play,” receiver Kyle Williams told Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News. “We feel we have one of the best teams in the league. So if we come in and take care of our business and execute, then we’ll be fine against whoever.”
The Niners, after all, put up some astounding numbers. They allowed just three rushing TDs, committed only 10 turnovers and threw just five interceptions. They didn’t commit a turnover over their final five games. They also went 4-1 against teams that made the playoffs, and ranked first in the NFL defensively in rushing yards allowed. The Niners defense ranks in the top five in eight key defensive categories.
San Francisco’s defense, too, has playmakers, with active linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and pass rushers Justin and Aldon Smith.
Offensively, the Niners showed they can run on almost any defense and quarterback Alex Smith – though no Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers – was efficient and effective when he needed to be. Smith completed 61.4 percent of his throws for 3,150 yards with 17 TD passes against just the five picks while posting a passer rating of 90.7. Just as importantly, Smith has learned how to buy time in the pocket, avoid sacks and throw the ball away.
Still, fans will look at 49ers vs. Saints or 49ers vs. Packers and see Brees and Rodgers and the 547 points scored by the Saints (34.2 per game) and 560 (35 per game) scored by the Packers. By comparison, the 49ers scored just 380 (23.8 per game).
When it comes to comparisons, it mostly blue collar vs. bling.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh Monday told reporters that he and his coaches and team will use this week to start preparing for either the Saints, the Falcons or the Giants, while using the extra week to get healthy.
No matter who his team has to play, he’s confident it will find a way. In the second half of games this season, the 49ers were tough to overcome.
“One of the great things about this 2011 team is their ability to find ways to win and finish games,” Harbaugh told Brown. “And it’s good to win in different ways. … when you have a team that can win by scoring four touchdowns or you can win with special teams or with any of the different ways in other games we’ve won.”