Canal Street Chronicles: With all the excitement in the media about Smith vs. Kaepernick at starter, who do the fans really want at the helm on Sunday versus the Saints?
Niners Nation: There really is a mixed bag of opinions on this in much of a "Team Alex" vs. "Team Kaep" kind of way. If both quarterbacks are healthy, I personally want Alex Smith in there. Colin Kaepernick showed some great things, and I do think he can be the 49ers quarterback of the future. At the same time, Alex Smith was playing some solid football when he went down with his concussion. This game is incredibly critical, and given the explosive nature of the Saints offense, I am a bit more inclined to see the 49ers play a conservative, ball control type of game. While Kaepernick can make plays, there is always the concern that this was only one game and we don't really know if he's completely ready for prime time.
I suppose it might be worth the gamble, but it's a tough one to figure out. I'm really just fine with whichever QB gets the call, and I am very happy I do not have to make that call. I think reasonable arguments can be made for both of these guys. I think following Monday's fan, a lot of fans secretly want Kaepernick, but also can see the value in sticking with Alex Smith. It's kind of crazy.
CSC: After winning in dramatic fashion last year against the Saints, does this 49ers team feel confident that they will be able to beat this 5-5 Saints team?
NN: I think this team is confident it can play with anybody. Although the Saints are 5-5, I have a feeling this 49ers defense is aware that the Saints are starting to play better. One problem the 49ers defense has had at times this year is coming out flat against inferior opponents. I think (and at least hope) they will view this Saints team as the dangerous team that has won three straight, and not the team that struggled to start the season.
As for the offense, it really is hard to figure out what this unit will do in part because the coaches really do a great job in adjusting the game plan based on opponents. They surprised the Bears by coming out throwing quite a bit, just as the Bears figured they would get conservative with a second-year QB. I don't really know what to expect in terms of the game plan on Sunday, but I think this coaching staff is comfortable in their plans for the game.
CSC: The Smith brothers wreaked havoc on the Bears offensive line on Monday night. Do you expect the same type of success with the Saints injury riddled line?
NN: I like to think I expect havoc from Justin Smith and Aldon Smith every week, but obviously that is not always the case. The pass rush in general has been quite solid, but they were not piling up huge sack numbers initially. That obviously changed in a big way. Aldon was the star of the defense on Monday showing a mix of power and speed moves that have him at the top of the league in sacks.
If the Saints offensive line is struggling, I think Aldon can put together another multi-sack effort. The Saints can't really afford to double one or the other because that opens things up. At the same time, Ahmad Brooks sits on the other side waiting for an opening. I think this will prove to be the biggest issue for the Saints on Sunday.
CSC: Who's running back is better? Gore or the Saints RB rotation?
NN: The 49ers running back position is actually a duo of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. Gore remains the primary back, but you can expect to see Kendall Hunter getting a lot of touches in sweeps and screen passes. While Hunter does possess the ability to hit between the tackles, his strength is getting him out in space. Gore will likely get somewhere between 15 and 20 carries, with Hunter getting in the 5-8 range.
As for the comparison, I think the big thing is that the 49ers offensive line has been dominating in run blocking. I think Gore/Hunter are better than the rotation in New Orleans, but I also think they have benefited greatly from spectacular offensive line play.
CSC: What do you predict the score of the game to be, who will start at QB, and who is the MVP?
NN: I'll go with 49ers winning 34-24. I actually think Colin Kaepernick ends up getting the start. Coach Harbaugh said he thought Alex Smith would get cleared to play this week, but I have a hunch it's late enough in the week that he is active but the team doesn't think he got enough playing time with the playbook to get the start. People might view it as a benching, but I honestly think Alex Smith does get back into the starting lineup once he gets a full week of work.
As for MVP? I'm going to go with a big game from Aldon Smith leading the way.