It may not feel like it, but we are down to only four teams, two games away from the Super Bowl. It feels like yesterday we were all still focused on the lockout negotiations. Nevertheless, the winner of the NFC Championship will have the honor of playing either the New England Patriots or Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl 46 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The NFC Championship features a familiar face, and not so familiar at 6:30 (EST) in San Francisco. Even though the Giants have familiarity in this position before, not many people envisioned them being here several weeks ago. Similar to their 2007 Super Bowl run, the Giants have flown under the radar once again. The same could be said for their opponent, the San Francisco 49ers. Before the season even started there were discussions of how there is a good chance Andrew Luck, and head coach Jim Harbaugh will be reunited in San Francisco as a result of being the worst team in the NFL. Harbaugh and the 49ers had other plans, though, as they captured the NFC West title en route to a 13-3 campaign. The 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints last week in a matchup that will be discussed for years to come. Quarterback Alex Smith outdueled Drew Brees and the Saints high powered offense to pick up the 36-32 victory.
It was easy to say that the 49ers were going to be bottom dwellers in the NFL this season, they welcomed a new coach to the sidelines, and well, they still had Alex Smith as their quarterback. New head coach Jim Harbaugh seemingly is what the 49ers needed, as not much has changed with personnel on the field, but the results have taken a 180. Alex Smith’s career, once in the balance, has shined under Harbaugh. Smith passed for 3144 yards with 17 TDs and 5 INTs in the regular season. After last week, 49er fans have a new sense of appreciation for their signal caller. However, Smith hasn’t had to be an elite quarterback to get the 49ers to this point due to the tenacious defense they employ. Simply minimizing mistakes has won them ball games. During the regular season, the 49ers ranked 4th in total defense, allowing 308.2 yards per game. Most notably, the defense has been nearly impossible to run on. The 49ers surrender only 77.2 yards (1st) in this regard. So it has been tough sledding even for the most efficient running backs in the NFL this season against the 49ers. Not only can they limit teams to low yardage, but they have a knack for turning the ball over. This was on display last week against the Saints, forcing five turnovers which was ultimately the deciding factor in the game.
The Giants running game was putrid at times this season; however, that was largely because of Ahmad Bradshaw missing from the lineup for the majority of the year. Once Bradshaw made his return, the ground game improved dramatically. The Giants, however, will look to attack the 49ers via the passing game. While San Francisco isn’t entirely bad against the pass, they can certainly be exploited (16th). In the Giants and 49ers last meeting in week 10, Eli Manning threw for 311 yards in a losing effort, 27-20. Turnovers were again the story of that game, as Manning threw two interceptions which doomed the Giants. The 49ers played nearly a flawless game in that winning effort. This was at a point in the Giants season where it appeared the season was all but lost. In the last three weeks of the season, they have looked like a brand new squad. The defense and pass rush has turned it up a few extra notches, even causing major problems for Aaron Rodgers last week. In their last three games, the Giants have allowed only an average of 12 points a game. Equally stout against the run (86.7/per game) and pass (225/per game). It’ll be interesting to see if Alex Smith can put together another excellent performance against a top defensive unit.
Giants vs. 49ers Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
New York Giants +2.5
@San Francisco 49ers -2.5
Over 42 (-110)
Under 42 (-110)
Giants vs. 49ers Pick:
As close as the Saints/49ers game last week was, this one could be even closer. Both bring hardnosed defenses to the table that can cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks. However, there is a slight favorite when it comes to offense, and that is the New York Giants. It was quite evident from last week that it was an emotional win the 49ers. After all, it was the franchises biggest victory in quite awhile. The Giants victories over the Packers was quite significant as well, even more so than the 49ers win, but you could tell following the game that they have been there before and have their eyes on better things.
If it wasn’t for inexcusable turnovers, the Saints very well could have beaten the 49ers comfortably last week. And while I do give credit to the 49ers defense, some of the turnovers could have been avoided. Darren Sproles wasn’t even touched on one play, and the ball slipped right out of his hand. In another instance, Pierre Thomas fumbled the ball on the 49ers 2-yard line on the Saints opening drive. If the Saints score there, the dynamics of the game is completely different. The Saints defense stuck to their forte, and that’s blitz, blitz, and blitz some more. Needless to say the 49ers picked up the blitz with ease and Alex Smith took advantage of single coverage. The Giants do not need to bring extra heat to get pressure, though. They can simply rush their front 4 and they’ll cause trouble in the backfield. The 49ers will be a threat for years to come in the NFL, but I believe the Giants win a close contest. Experience in this spot will prove to be the deciding factor.
PICK = Giants +2.5 @ www.5dimes.com (Get $520 FREE)