Every season all 32 teams come into training camp with one common goal in mind…play in and win a Super Bowl. Often times this may not be a practical goal but, every team still strives to reach the plateau that is winning a championship. Teams across the NFL have battled it out for 19 weeks now leaving only a final four to compete for the coveted Super Bowl Trophy; to put it simply, its win or go home empty handed. The San Francisco 49ers entered the playoffs this season with a 13-3 record which earned them a bye out of the Wild Card Round. The bye didn’t seem to affect the team much though (As it clearly did The Packers) as they outlasted Drew Brees and the high flying Saints offense in the Divisional Round last week. It was their stingy defense that kept them in the game for the first 50+ minutes until Alex Smith was able to step up and make a couple of big plays for his team (coupled with a play for the ages by Vernon Davis on the final drive). The win against a team many had favored to win the Super Bowl should give the 49ers a lot of confidence heading into a match-up with the Giants, a team that up until the last month looked like they were destined to be on the golf course by now. The transformation of the Giants since then has been nothing short of night and day. Although the 49ers knocked out the so called “Hottest Team in The NFL,” the Giants had the pleasure of knocking out the team with the best record in the NFL, and they did it in convincing fashion. The 37-20 win over the Packers has the Giants dealing with major déjà vu as this seasons team continues to become a finely crafted image of the 07’ squad that fans seem tentative to compare this years team too, but should not be anymore. This Giants team is led by Elite Manning (sorry my mistake, I meant to say Eli), and what a leader and fantasy stud he has become for this team. A stabilizing force for the offense, Manning has had his best games this season when the chips are on the line. It started with a huge day against the Cowboys (with the division on the line) in week 17 that saw Eli go for 346 passing yards and 3 touchdowns. The very next week against the Falcons, Eli carved Atlanta for 277 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, but he didn’t stop there. We all saw what he and the Giants did to the Packers last week, and had it not been for a questionable roughing the passer call late and a botched fumble call early, the Giants may have ran away with that game too (yeah Bill Leavy, you screwed up). Quite frankly I think it’s hard to give either team an edge heading into this week because of how meaningful both of their victories were last week; that being said let’s take a look at who has the edge in each aspect of this weeks game:
Special Teams: The Giants are mistake-prone on special teams despite having a coach known for preaching discipline on these types of plays. The Giants also lack a weapon of a kick returner, something the 49ers have in speedy wideout/return man Ted Ginn Jr. The 49ers are also excellent in pinning teams deep in their own territory, last week alone they had 4 kicks downed inside the opponents twenty. Sometimes it’s not about being flashy on special teams, it’s about getting the job done consistently. Kicker David Akers defines consistency and he could be a key to this week’s game.
Edge: San Francisco
Coaching: Rookie Coach Jim Harbaugh deserves all the credit in the world for coming into the league, revitalizing the career of Alex Smith (yeah he did that) and for making the 49ers a damn good team. Harbaugh has this team playing aggressive defense and methodically smart offense. However, you can’t look past what This Giants staff has done this season. As I said, this team stumbled through the year, but is peaking at just the right moment. I give a lot of the credit for that to Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell and Long time Head Coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin is a man who was on the hot seat all season, but proved he’s still in charge here with this string of play. Coughlin has been the voice of this team since 2004 and although has had some tough times, he deserves a lot of the credit for ascending this team into a perennial contender.
Edge: New York
Defense: If defense wins championships then you may want to crown San Francisco’s asses already (yeah I worked in a Dennis Green reference), especially after what they did to the Saints last week. Most people leave that game only remembering the great stretch run Alex Smith pulled off or the gutsy catch Vernon Davis made in the final seconds… and those were great moments, but what made those moments possible was the dirty work of that 49ers defense. Tasked with stopping the “Man on Fire” Drew Brees, the 49ers brought their “A” game and despite yielding 32 points to New Orleans, leave no doubt they won them the game. The Giants defense has been just as good allowing only 36 points (34 on defense) over the past three weeks for a stellar 11.33 points allowed per game average, however the 49ers stopping the league’s best offense is damn impressive.
Edge: San Francisco
Offense: When you have a Quarterback coming into his zone and a capable receiving bunch that has shown they can make plays you’re bound to be dangerous, as are the Giants. Hakeem Nicks had a game for the ages last week and I expect him to put up big numbers again this week with the Conference Title on the line (hopefully you picked him on your fantasy football playoff team). I think this game will come down to the Giants ability to run the ball. If Bradshaw and Jacobs can get efficient production (they don’t have to dominate), they’ll make the defense back off just a little which will give Manning the time he needs to let routes develop and make big throws. If the 49ers aren’t able to pressure Manning this could be a long day for them, because as teams have started to learn… Manning will beat you if you give him the chance.
Edge: New York
Prediction: The game is close throughout with the Giants capitalizing on a big play late by Hakeem Nicks to open the game up. The Giants also get back to running the football and dominate pocession which keeps there defense fresh and wears down the 49ers. At the same time Alex Smith struggles with the Giants D-Line schemes and never gets into a rhythm.
Final Score: San Francisco 49ers 21- New York Giants 31
Am I right on this one? Or am I dead wrong? Let Me Know!