Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 11/26/12
Scared money makes no money. Going into the matchup between San Francisco and New Orleans, we could infer that coach Jim Harbaugh gambled with house money from week eleven. He cashed in Sunday afternoon as Colin Kaepernick proved to be the right choice leading the 49ers to a 31-21 win. The Niners will stay in the driver’s seat to win the NFC West division while their entire organization fields questions about their favorite coach and quarterback (Kaepernick or Smith). Here is what we learned.1. The 49ers dashed the Saints playoff hopes. I chronicled the Saints' struggles in early October (see: "Saints Not Ain'ts, But Bountygate Has Certainly Taken Its Toll") questioning if they could overcome a horrific 0-4 start to make the playoffs. I doubted them, then; and they will not be crowned any time soon. New Orleans fell to 5-6 after yesterday's loss fumbling a chance to move up in the playoff standings after losses by the Packers, Vikings, Buccaneers and Seahawks. New Orleans are not eliminated, but they have one of the tougher remaining schedules in The League with three of their remaining five games on the road; set to play the Falcons, Giants, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Panthers overall. I am not buying.2. San Francisco is a long shot for the #1 seed in the playoffs. The team we continue to call overrated keeps on winning. The Atlanta Falcons (10-1) snatched a win from the Buccaneers and is expected to continue the same work with five games remaining; three of which are at home. Of those five opponents, only the Giants and Bucs have a winning record. The Falcons could finish the year on a seven-game winning streak. If not that, they are not expected to lose more than one of those games. If so and the Niners win out, they would be a half game back at the most. San Francisco may still host the NFC Championship for two consecutive years, but entering the playoffs as the top seed is unlikely.      3. Is there a defense in The League more feared than the Niners? No!!! While the Bears can be counted for scores to assist their struggling offense, it is the 49ers who consistently make back-cracking hits game after game; pound clubs into submission. Their opponents see the film. They expect to get hit and guys like Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman oblige. Did you notice how Goldson and Whitner smacked Marques Colston and Lance Moore? This unit caused more turnovers last year, but the current version is better. They are also heating up at the right time. Aldon and Justin Smith are really bearing down on opposing quarterbacks. Over the past few weeks, more sacks, turnovers and scores have occurred at a higher rate for them. Heading deeper into the cold season with the playoffs looming, mean defenses like this one grow from Mighty Joe Young to King Kong.4. The 49ers must use this time to tighten the intangibles if they want to go back to New Orleans (for Superbowl XLVII) this season. San Francisco is thriving and still building on both sides of the ball. Yet, over the past few weeks the team begins to morph into mediocrity and inconsistency in other areas. Ted Ginn Jr. muffed a punt return during the second quarter of Sunday's game. Usually sure-handed and on the verge of breaking the big one, Ginn regressed Sunday. David Akers continues to struggle missing two kicks; one from beyond 50, while the other was blocked. Special teams is usually a strong piece for the Niners; a component they typically exploit on game day. The 49ers know the importance of special teams in playoff games. They must right that part of the ship. Also significant, are the Niners’ penalties. They cannot continue to shut down drives and kill big plays with penalties. They will not always overcome them as they did versus the Saints.  5. Colin Kaepernick is the future of the San Francisco 49ers franchise. When a team is Superbowl or bust like the Niners, the future is now. Kaepernick is the guy. He entered in relief for Alex Smith during week 11. Since, he is 43-65, 591 yards, 5 TDs (2 rushing), INT. Alex Smith has played very well since last season, but Kaepernick’s toolbox is heavier. The young man’s skill level is in another building compared to Smith’s. Pages in the playbook fly open with Kaepernick at the helm. What is called a controversy is more of a luxury. Harbaugh clearly has two effective quarterbacks, but Kaepernick is the future. Smith must be the backup. He is a professional. He can handle it. Yet, calling Kaepernick's number means you stay with him all the way. Harbaugh and the rest of the team know what to expect from the second-year quarterback. They can ride his arm to the Superbowl.     
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