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49ers ON OFFENSE: San Francisco owns one of the best offenses despite injuries that have ravaged its offensive line. Quarterback Steve Young lit up Atlanta a week ago, completing 15 of 16 passes.

Future Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice loves to see the Bucs. A year ago, he burned them for four touchdown passes and along with John Taylor will provide the biggest test to date for the Bucs' secondary.

Covering those receivers will be doubly tough for Tampa Bay due to its alarming lack of pressure on the quarterback. Bucs defensive end Karl Wilson, who was released by the 49ers, leads the team in sacks with 2{ in a part-time role.

If the passing game isn't enough to worry about, there's tight end Brent Jones or a potent ground attack led by Ricky Watters and St. Petersburg native William Floyd.

49ers ON DEFENSE: The names jump out at you like a Pro Bowl squad. In an era of salary caps, the 49ers have managed to stock themselves handsomely with big-time free agents like cornerback Deion Sanders, linebackers Ken Norton and Rickey Jackson and safety Tim McDonald.

The 49ers were rocked 40-8 by Philadelphia three weeks ago, but their defense has rallied and was in Prime Time fashion last week when Sanders followed fisticuffs with receiver Andre Rison by providing the knockout blow with an interception return for a touchdown.

San Francisco does not blitz a lot and plays a similar front to the Bucs, which could favor rookie quarterback Trent Dilfer. But the Bucs will have to rediscover their running game if they are to keep the 49ers' potent offense on the sidelines.


Steve Young still is maligned in San Francisco for not taking the 49ers to a Super Bowl, but he is no average Joe. He has a quarterback rating of 100 and leads the NFL in TD passes with 14. Bucs will probably start rookie Trent Dilfer, who threw three INTs in his last appearance. But Bucs coach Sam Wyche played that decision close to the vest. Edge: 49ers

RUNNING BACK: Bucs rushed for a season-low 32 yards in their last outing at Atlanta, most if it coming on mad scrambles by quarterback Craig Erickson. Ricky Watters leads the 49ers with 318 yards and two touchdowns. Edge: 49ers.

RECEIVER: Future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice pads his numbers against Tampa Bay. He had 4 TDs versus the Bucs last season. Wide receiver Lawrence Dawsey returns to the Bucs' lineup after missing the first six games while recovering from knee surgery. Edge: 49ers.

OFFENSIVE LINE: 49ers starting guard Ralph Tamm (foot) and tackle Harris Barton (tricep) are not expected to play against the Bucs. Bucs right tackle Tim Irwin is doubtful with an elbow infection and could bring the longest active starting streak (187 games) in the league to a close today. That would force the Bucs to make two moves on their offensive line, shifting left guard Scott Dill to right tackle and inserting Charles McRae at left guard. Edge: 49ers.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Richard Dent, the 49ers' best pass rusher, is out. But they had no trouble pressuring Atlanta QB Jeff George. The Bucs still are waiting for Eric Curry and Santana Dotson to show up. Dotson had a cast removed from his broken left wrist and could be more of a factor. Edge: 49ers

LINEBACKERS: Normally, this would be quite a matchup. The 49ers boast Pro Bowl free agents Ken Norton and Rickey Jackson. The Bucs welcome Hardy Nickerson back after he missed three weeks with an ankle sprain. Edge: 49ers.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Forget Sam Donaldson and Diane Sawyer, the 49ers have Prime Time Live. Sanders is questionable with a groin pull. Bucs are playing well despite the lack of a pass rush. Edge: 49ers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Bucs kickoff returns rank among the worst in the league. Sanders also is a dangerous punt returner. Edge: 49ers.

COACHING: George Seifert has had his team in the NFC championship game almost every year and a radio poll said 85 percent of the fans responding think he should be fired. And Wyche thinks he has it tough in Tampa Bay. Edge: 49ers.