Brees' decision-making will cost Saints

If Drew Brees doesn't protect the football, the Niners have a good shot at an upset. John David Mercer/US Presswire

One of the relatively unsung progenitors of the football analytics field was Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.

Landry's Cowboys were one of the first NFL teams to use a computer, and some of the things they had the computer look for were statistical trends that caused teams to win or lose. Landry was able to use these trends to establish single-game numeric goals that, if achieved, were so powerful in determining the outcome of games that they almost assured victory. Numeric goals can be diminished, of course, because they are so often pieced together after the fact. Process matters, too.

And finding numeric goals of that nature this week with process in mind certainly would look like a daunting task for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. After all, his Niners are facing a New Orleans Saints offense that set an NFL record for most yards gained in a season (7,474) and became only the fifth team in league history to score 540 or more points (547).

As discouraging as this type of goal setting might look at first glance, however, upon closer review it becomes clear that the 49ers have to reach only two achievable goals to give themselves a very good chance at pulling off the upset.

The first goal stems from the idea that even high-scoring teams don't fare well in shootout-style contests.