The Divisional Playoff Sweat Barometer 

January, 12, 2012

While all the matchups of the Divisional Round of the 2011 NFL playoffs are intriguing, from a gambling perspective one stands out: the New Orleans Saints visiting the San Francisco 49ers.

Though we touched on it in this space last week, the Saints and 49ers finished No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the NFL Sweat Barometer this year (data provided by Sal Selvaggio from

The Saints have struggled on the road this season (4-4 ATS, SB of minus-2.13), with losses to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams, while the Niners have been absolutely dominant at home (7-0-1 ATS, SB of 11.06). The line opened at Saints minus-3.5 and has stayed there, with the total being bumped up from 47 to 47.5. And the public, as expected, is backing the Saints at a 71 percent clip.

The big question is whether San Francisco's defense can slow down Drew Brees and New Orleans' offense. The 49ers defense is ranked No. 3 in the NFL by Football Outsiders with a DVOA of minus-10.3 percent and first in the NFL against the run; it only ranks eighth against the pass.

However, Geoff Kulesa of Wunderdog Sports thinks the numbers for San Francisco's pass defense are a bit misleading.

"The Niners played to a 13-3 record and often had teams put away," Kulesa says. "They allowed 104 of their 229 points in the fourth quarter! There were a lot of passing yards there, and despite that they allowed just 14.3 ppg."

One major issue for the 49ers, though, is that according to FO, they rank just 20th in the NFL at defending running backs catching passes out of the backfield, and Darren Sproles is one of the NFL's best at doing just that.

Although lower-seeded wild-card winners like the Saints, who won and covered at home are only 20-29-1 ATS against higher-seeded opponents per, Kulesa sees value with the total -- not the line.

Ben Fawkes

ESPN Staff Writer