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NFL Monday Night Football Preview: Saints at 49ers

The New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers will meet for the 71st time on Monday night in San Francisco's Candlestick Park. The 49ers lead the all-time series between the two former NFC West Division rivals 45-23-2, but the Saints have won the last five meetings and are 7-1 against the 49ers since 2000. The last time San Francisco beat the Saints was in 2001.

The Saints will try to open 2-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time. New Orleans got the defense of its Super Bowl title off to a good start with a 14-9 victory over Minnesota last Thursday, winning a rematch of the NFC title game. The Saints scored their fewest points in a win in Sean Payton's four-plus seasons, but the coach left satisfied despite a handful of mistakes.

New Orleans finished with 308 yards, well below its league-best average of 403.8 in 2009. Garrett Hartley missed a pair of field goals and the Saints dropped several Drew Brees passes, including one by Robert Meachem in the end zone. Brees still completed 75 percent of his throws though (27 of 36) and opened the scoring with a 29-yard connection to Devery Henderson.
Payton's counterpart in Monday's game, Mike Singletary, was far from happy after a 31-6 loss to Seattle last week.

The 49ers were a popular pick as a favorite to win the NFC West after completing their first perfect preseason in 18 years. San Francisco, however, failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 19 games.

San Francisco managed 49 yards rushing, and Alex Smith threw a pair of crucial interceptions during his 225-yard day. The 49ers gave up 28 points over a nearly seven-minute span.

Managing just 40 yards rushing against Seattle, San Francisco hopes to regain the offensive balance they displayed throughout the pre-season. RB Frank Gore, especially, needs to show more than the 38 yards on 17 carries he produced last Sunday. QB Alex Smith had two costly momentum-killing interceptions in that game, and Coach Mike Singletary expects a better performance from the former #1 overall draft pick. About the only offensive bright spot for the Niners was TE Vernon Davis, who had 8 receptions for 73 yards, justifying somewhat his recent contract extension, making him the highest paid TE in NFL history ($37 million, 5 years).

The 49ers defense, the subject of much Singletary praise in pre-season, had better get it together, and quickly, as Saints QB Drew Brees has been nothing short of completely dominant versus them. In his four 49er-Saint matchups, (all Saint victories) Brees has thrown for 1,221 yards, 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Needless to say, the 49ers want to turn that around. LB Patrick Willis continues to be among the best (and most overlooked) in the NFL. The secondary will obviously be tested early and often by Brees.

The 49ers, who haven't started 0-2 since losing their first four games in 2004, have dropped a series-worst five in a row to the Saints, their former NFC West rivals.

Brees threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns in the teams' last matchup, a 31-17 New Orleans home win Sept. 28, 2008. He had 336 yards and four TDs in his team's most recent trip to San Francisco, a 31-10 victory Oct. 28, 2007.

Brees is 4-0 against the 49ers and has 1,221 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in those games.

San Francisco is 22-10-2 at home against New Orleans but has dropped eight of 10 overall meetings.

Monday's game is the first for Saints running back Reggie Bush since he forfeited the Heisman Trophy he won with Southern California in 2005. - Mike Cardano

Mike is the founder of Around the Horn Baseball & Xtra Point Football.

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NCAA Football 2010 Season Previews and NFL 2010 Season Previews

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