One of the classic NFL rivalries gets a reboot on Sunday when the Giants travel to Candlestick Park to face Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers for the George S. Halas Trophy.
The NFC Championship battle between San Francisco and New York marks the second meeting between the two great franchises. Back on November 13, the Niners defeated New York 27-20.
Much like their first meeting, New York heads to the West coast after an emotional win a week prior. During the regular season matchup, the Giants were fresh off of upsetting the Patriots; this time around New York enters after smashing the 15-1 Packers 37-20 in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Meanwhile, San Francisco plays in its first NFC title game since the 1997 season and will load up once more after titanic tussle with New Orleans last Saturday.
Who will win head to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI?
Let’s take a look at a few keys:
1. The Start Is The End: Besides Vernon Davis proving to be unstoppable last week, one of the great factors in San Francisco winning turned out to be the first quarter. New Orleans fumbled and bumbled their way through the first quarter, trailing 14-0 after the game’s opening 15 minutes. Eventually, San Fran led 17-0 in the second quarter before the Saints woke up to make it a game. The Saints took a late fourth quarter lead but their ragged start cost them late. I don’t care who is playing quarterback, but trailing three scores in the second quarter is a disastrous recipe for postseason success. If the Giants want a Super Bowl berth, they can’t repeat New Orleans’ poor start.
2. Jammin’ on the One: Weird stat of the week…Sunday will be just the second time that quarterbacks selected number one overall in the NFL Draft meet for a conference title. The last time? The 1998 AFC title game between the Jets and Broncos. Vinny Testaverde (number one in 1987) fell to Denver’s John Elway (the top selection in 1983 top selection). Alex Smith gave his critics a week-long vacation after ushering San Francisco on two late-game scoring drives to propel the Niners to victory. To win this game, Smith doesn’t need to put up last week’s gaudy numbers. He needs to (gulp) manage the game effectively and not be turnover happy. He has mastered this idea lately. Smith’s last interception came on Thanksgiving night in a loss to Baltimore. Conversely, Eli clearly faces a stiffer challenge than the Corn Flakes defenses he has seen over the last two weeks. San Francisco’s top ranked rush defense will likely not allow the Giants to have a balanced attack. Manning threw for 311 yards against San Fran in October but tossed a pair of interceptions. That will be a no-no on Sunday.
3. Green Akers: The 49ers have seen several great offensive players in their day. Of course, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice; the great Steve Young; and Roger Craig to name a few. However, none of these men set the team’s all-time record for points in a season. That honor goes to 49ers kicker David Akers. He set an NFL record by making 44 field goals in 2011. One year after arguably costing the Eagles a playoff win, Akers is having an historic season. Yet, he can’t be a major principle in Sunday’s events. The Niners need touchdowns not repeated drives that end with an Akers field goal. During a Week 11 game versus Arizona, Akers attempted six field goals…in the first half. It’s very difficult to win playoff games with field goal assaults; unless of course, you have this guy on your defense or this guy as your defense coordinator.
4. No YAC For You: New York’s success over the past four weeks has stemmed from one big offensive concept…yards after catch. In each of their last four victories, New York receivers turned short to medium gains into game-changing touchdowns. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks established themselves as big-play threats and San Francisco must limit their success downfield. Games like this make me think of the NBA and specifically, Allen Iverson. One of the NBA’s great scorers, Iverson often needed to take 30-35 shots to reach 25 points if the opposing defense was too stifling. I look at the Giants in the same way. If the 49ers limit the YAC, they’ll prevent this game from becoming a shootout and increase their chances of victory. If they can’t, Candlestick Park may get a taste of salsa.
5. It’s A Sack Party And Everybody’s Invited: The Giants and Niners rank fourth and seventh respectively in sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul’s 16.5 led New York, while rookie Aldon Smith’s 14 paced San Francisco. While sacks are always cool (SF and NYG combined for just three in their October meeting), hurries and active hands are good too. The decisive play in San Francisco’s regular season victory proved to be a batted ball by defensive lineman Justin Smith on a f and 5 play deep in San Fran territory. Defensive pressure in championship games wins folks.
SUMMARY: New York traveling out west and getting a bit cocky in the press makes me concerned. This is where their 2007 playoff run and 2011 playoff run are a bit dissimilar. In the big boy playoff rounds (Divisionals, Championship Game, Super Bowl), the Giants kept hearing how they couldn’t win in Dallas or Green Bay; and of course versus New England in the Super Bowl. You don’t hear that this week and should they win on Sunday, they’ll receive serious respect regardless of their Super Bowl opponent.
As for the game, the Giants are a tricky matchup for the 49ers.
To paraphrase NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi, the Giants will force the Niners to play left-handed offensively (a code for taking away a team’s best asset – in this case likely Vernon Davis).
So, do the 49ers have other options?
Against this Giants team, I fear they don’t unless it’s turnover aided. Also, one number from last week that keeps jumping off the screen at me…462. That represented Drew Brees’ yardage total.
New York has a better core of receivers than New Orleans.
THE PICK: NEW YORK 21, SAN FRANCISCO 17