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Saints, 49ers capable of slaying Packers in NFC

NEW ORLEANS – Although they are making a strong case to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI, I'm not ready to concede the conference championship to the undefeated Green Bay Packers (10-0).

Not just yet anyway.

Yes, I do believe the NFC championship ultimately will be decided at venerable Lambeau Field but the winner won't necessarily be the home team.

Here's why:

If a team like the New Orleans Saints (7-3) or San Francisco 49ers (9-1) can protect the ball, score touchdowns in the red zone and win the battle of field position, each stands a reasonably good chance of surviving what promises to be a wintry afternoon Jan. 22 at Green Bay.

I like the Saints' chances in a shootout because of quarterback Drew Brees and his plethora of offensive weapons, and I like the 49ers' chances in a low-scoring game because of their stout defense, which has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season, and their running game with Frank Gore.

Granted, the defending Super Bowl champion Packers have MVP-in-waiting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a bevy of big-play receivers but they are somewhat vulnerable on defense, though they remind me of the ball-hawking, takeaway-crazed Saints' defense during its Super Bowl XLIV run in 2009.

Green Bay currently is ranked second in the NFL in turnover differential at +12 (22 takeaways, 12 giveaways), trailing only the 49ers at +17 (26 takeaways, 9 giveaways).

But the Packers surrender mucho yards (391.8 per game, 30th in the NFL) and enough points (21.2, 14th in the NFL) to give an opponent reason for hope.

Just Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Josh Freeman amassed 455 yards in a 35-26 loss at Lambeau Field. In the opening game of the NFL season on Sept. 8, the Saints rolled up 477 yards against the Packers in a 42-34 loss at Lambeau.

The most important statistic in each game is the final score. But the overriding point is the Packers are very beatable, though they have yet to be beaten.

That is about to change. I predict by mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving Day (Fox 8, 11:30 a.m. kickoff) they will not be undefeated.

Look for the resurgent Detroit Lions (7-3) to pull off an upset at Ford Field in Motown and repeat history of nearly 50 years ago. On Nov. 22, 1962, the 10-0 Packers visited the Lions at old Tiger Stadium on Turkey Day and Detroit walked away with a 26-14 victory.

Am I biting off more than I chew on this prediction? Perhaps, but I won't be eating crow on Thanksgiving Day.

I promise you that.

Gobble, gobble everyone!


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