The NFL’s slate of games during Week 14 has a couple of amazing matchups on tap. The Kansas City Chiefs face the New England Patriots to headline the afternoon slate while the San Francisco 49ers face off with the New Orleans Saints at 1:00 PM (ET). Both games have huge implications for the playoff picture, but the matchup of the NFC heavyweights is particularly important.
The Niners are simultaneously jockeying for the NFC West title and a first-round bye. In order to gain ground on the rival Seattle Seahawks, a win is imperative. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel is a key component for the Niners this week. A big game from him will give San Francisco a great shot at knocking off the top team in the NFC.
All season, the Niners have made their offensive money on the ground. It’s unlikely that they continue that way in week 14. The Saints have been elite against the run to this point, allowing only 88 rushing yards per game. That’s good for third in the NFL. Conversely, their pass defense has been surprisingly mediocre. They allow 234 yards through the air per game, which ranks a middling 17th in the league. The best way to attack the Saints is through the air. There’s no debate about that.
Unfortunately for San Francisco, no receiver on their roster has emerged as a clear-cut number one option. Samuel is the closest thing they have, as he’s easily been their best wide receiver in recent weeks. In the last two weeks, Samuel has been the only wide receiver to make it into the end zone.
The South Carolina product has also finished in the top two in receiving yardage in both of those games. If the Saints decide to use star cornerback Marshon Lattimore to cover Samuel, he’s already done his job. Samuel’s fellow receivers are good enough to punish the other New Orleans cornerbacks in coverage if Lattimore is occupied.
While it’s possible Lattimore is assigned to Samuel, it’s more likely that Emmanuel Sanders draws the shadow coverage. In that case, the responsibility of the air attack falls on Samuel’s shoulders. Saints cornerback Eli Apple will be the one matched up with him. Apple has been picked on by opposing quarterbacks throughout the year, and Jimmy Garopollo should continue the trend.
The former New York Giant feels like he is penalized for pass interference at least once a game. In terms of matchups, it’s one that Samuel needs to dominate. With Lattimore on Sanders and Kittle likely being doubled, someone needs to step up. Samuel has proven himself in big games and the Niners will need him in another one come Sunday.