Niners head Coach Jim Harbaugh will make the final decision on his starting quarterback vs. the Saints. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Until kickoff Sunday in New Orleans, it still may be uncertain who will start at quarterback for the 49ers against the Saints.
Only coach Jim Harbaugh knows for sure, and so far he's not saying.
But one thing is certain: the game will match a pair of hot teams.
After starting 0-4, the Saints have won five of six games to get back to .500 at 5-5. The 49ers, at 7-2-1, are coming off a thrashing of the Bears on Monday night.
The game is a rematch of last season’s NFC Divisional playoff game, won by San Francisco 36-32 on Alex Smith’s late touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis.
This time around, oddsmakers have made the game a pick-‘em proposition, largely because of the uncertainty of the 49ers quarterback situation.
While the Niners defense has been stifling and its running attack the best in the league, the quarterback spot is a question mark. Both Smith and Colin Kaepernick have been excellent this season, and as of Thursday night, Smith still hadn’t yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion two games ago. In his absence Monday against the Bears, Kaepernick was outstanding, and media reports this week indicated Kaepernick will likely get the start Sunday.
But on Thursday, the 49ers dismissed those reports – or at least didn’t say for certain who will start.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman told Kyle Bonagura of CBSSports.com that "no decision has been made."
“We’re hopeful that Alex gets cleared tomorrow (Friday), physically,” Roman told Bonagura. “We’re confident in both quarterbacks to be on the field. We’re always going to weigh all the information as we have it and make the best decision for the team at the time. But we have ultimate confidence in either.”
No matter who starts, the Saints could outscore the 49ers in the Superdome.
New Orleans is scoring 28.7 points per game, tied for fourth in the NFL, and quarterback Drew Brees has been clicking, particularly with tight end Jimmy Graham. Brees is No. 2 in the NFL in yards passing per game (306.6) and ranks first in TD passes (28).
It’s expected that running back Darren Sproles will return from injury Sunday to join a running back group of Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas.
Trying to stop the Saints will be the 49ers defense, which is No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, and can put pressure on Brees with a ferocious pass rush, led by Aldon Smith (who leads the NFL with 15 sacks).
In the final analysis, the 49ers with either Smith or Kaepernick will be dangerous.
Roman wasn’t ready to name Smith or Kaepernick the starter Sunday – and seemed unconcerned about all the attention the decision is attracting.
“Colin’s been getting pretty similar to what he got last week,” Roman said of reports Kaepernick was getting most of the snaps in practice with the first team. “He’s been getting some of the reps, Alex is getting some of the reps. That’s how it gets divvied up. It’s more play by play than first-team reps, second-team reps.”