It took a while this past season for ESPN personality, Stephen A. Smith, to warm up to the San Francisco 49ers. More often than not, the team responded well to his criticisms, going 13-3, winning the NFC West, and then making a Super Bowl run.

Smith isn't underestimating the 49ers in 2020. He picked Kyle Shanahan's squad over the Saints when asked if New Orleans should be considered the favorite in the NFC.

Smith understands that San Francisco lost wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but notes the team still has a tough defense, capable weapons in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, and solid depth at running back.

"When I look at them, and the pieces they have in place, there's no reason for there to be a drop off," Smith said on First Take. "I like New Orleans, I think they're a contender. Just like I like Seattle, I think they're a contender. But I think that San Francisco's defense was so dominant last year. That doesn't just fade.

"And the manner in which they lost in the Super Bowl, having a 10-point lead before they gave that up and allowed Patrick Mahomes to come to the rescue, I'm just of the mindset that they will be back.

"And I think that when you talk about the word 'favorites,' I think they've earned the right to assume that they have a better shot at getting to Super Bowl LV than the New Orleans Saints does."

While he respects the 49ers defense, Booger McFarland notes that he would pick Drew Brees over Jimmy Garoppolo when it counts, therefore going with the Saints.

"I get what you're saying," McFarland said. "And me of all people, who's a defensive guy, I love defense, but I've got to go with the team that has the better quarterback because I just don't know if I can trust Jimmy Garoppolo when the metal meets the road, and they're in that playoff game, he's got to make that throw. I don't know if he can do it. Or at least he didn't do it last year."

Smith notes that the question wasn't what the 49ers did against their AFC opponent in the Super Bowl, but what they did or can do against the NFC. The ESPN host continues to preach that Garoppolo is an afterthought when listing San Francisco's strengths, but feels overall, the team is the best in the conference.

Despite also picking the Saints himself, co-host Max Kellerman stated that Smith and McFarland might be sleeping on Garoppolo a bit.

"I'm snoring," Smith responded.

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