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San Francisco was one botched punt return away from the Super Bowl, which makes expectations very high for a team that came out of nowhere in 2011.
Alex Smith has new toys in comeback player of the year candidate Randy Moss and former New York Giants Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham via free agency. Smith will look to capitalize on a career year in 2011, when he recorded 3,144 yards with just five picks. Neither Moss nor Manningham played in the 49ers 17-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but both are expected to see more snaps against Houston.
The 49ers plucked running back Brandon Jacobs from the Giants to back up three-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore and his partner Kendall Hunter. San Francisco also drafted LaMichael James out of Oregon to give Gore some relief, considering his 282 rushing attempts in 2011 were his most since 2006 when he carried 312 times. James carried only three times for 15 yards against the Vikings and will need more time to pick up the teams' running schemes.
The Texans are also looking to capitalize on a breakthrough 2011 season. They took the AFC South for the franchise's first division title and first playoff berth.
Houston's defense led the way in 2011 and shutdown all comers, ranking third and fourth in passing yards and rushing yards allowed respectively. Houston kept piling on the defense by adding Whitney Mercilius with their first pick in the 2012 draft. So far he's lived up to the hype, tallying 1.5 sacks in Houston's 26-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Mercilius led the NCAA with 16 sacks coming out Illinois and will only increase the Texans dominance up front.
The offense suffered some setbacks in the passing game as famed veteran receiver Andre Johnson saw limited action in 2011, and quarterback Matt Schaub suffered a foot injury that kept him out Houston's last six games including the playoffs.
Houston replenished the receiving troop by adding rookie fourth-round pick Keshawn Martin, who caught 2 passes for 24 yards against Carolina and ran 20 yards on an end-around. Martin, along with second year man Lestar Jean, will see more action against 49ers. Also keep an eye out for rookie Devier Posey who was targeted just once against the Panthers.
Prediction: This could be the game where we see if Smith has clicked with his new receivers or not. Houston's defense is just too strong, especially upfront. The Texans should claim the victory.
Predicted Score: Houston 27 San Francisco 13