This game has an old school kind of feel to it, between 1981 and 1993 these teams slugged it out in the playoffs 6 times with both teams winning 3 a piece with the likes of Montana, Young & Rice going at it against Simms, Taylor & Ingram. The current versions of these teams produced somewhat of a surprise by winning last week, although those who take a closer look will not have been completely shocked by the outcomes of the divisional round games last week. It’s a little harsh on the 49ers, they finished the season 13-3 and the number two seed in the playoffs so winning at home against the Saints (also 13-3) wasn’t expected but can’t really be seen as surprising. What was surprising perhaps was the 4th quarter play of QB Alex Smith, who started the game well but produced nothing for more than two full quarters and ended up winning a late 4th quarter shootout against Drew Brees, aided by Tight End Vernon Davis and through out the game by the 49ers defense. A special mention should also go to the crowd at Candlestick Park who played their part have waited since 2002 for a home playoff game, which was incidentally also against the Giants winning on that occasion 39-38 before losing to eventual Superbowl Champions the Buccaneers.
Giants’ fans will be no doubt be hearing comparisons between this current team and the one that went all the way in 2007, despite the fact only 17 players remain on the roster from that winning run. The Giants may have some omens on their side, they won in Lambeau Field last week as they did in the Championship game in 2007, and the last two teams that have bounced the Atlanta Falcons from the playoffs have gone on to represent the NFC in the Superbowl.
These two teams met at Candlestick Park back in week 10 of the regular season with the 49ers coming out on top 27-20.
49ers keys for victory are:
Control the line of scrimmage:
The Giants greatest asset on their defense is undoubtedly their pass rush which can be lethal even by just rushing 4 and although the 49ers didn’t run the ball as much as expected last week putting Smith in constant passing situations will suit the Giants pass rush and play to their strength. Expect more of Frank Gore than you saw last week and maybe some screen passes and play action.
The 49ers wouldn’t be in the Championship game if it wasn’t for their defense. This unit ranked 4th overall and second in points allowed, they also created a joint league high 38 take-aways and that contributed to a plus 28 in the turnover differential.
This crowd was really into it last week; they were loud in a stadium that probably doesn’t hold noise very well. The Giants offense has a tendency to commit stupid false start penalties especially in loud stadiums; putting the Giants offense in 3rd and 10 instead of 3rd and 5 will give the 49ers defense the advantage.
Giants keys for victory are:
Establish the run:
The Giants seem to have found their running game in the playoffs after having the last ranked rushing attack in the regular season. The Giants can take the crowd out of the game by controlling on the clock and can tire the 49ers defense out by producing long drives, plus that keeps their own defense fresh.
The Giants pass rush can dominate any team and if they can get constant pressure on Alex Smith that could force him into mistakes and that means turnovers. Surprisingly their sack leader, Jason Pierre-Paul has yet to record a sack in the playoffs but Osi Umenyiora has 3 and Linebacker Michael Boley has 2.
Complete some big plays:
This Giants offense relies on big plays and won’t be able to dink and dunk their way down the field so they’ll need a few passing plays of 20 yards or more. Wide-out Victor Cruz was third in the regular season in total yards and is the key to the big plays that allow fellow receivers Nicks and Manningham to get the good personnel match-ups.
The Giants will want to take the crowd out of the game and not get into to third and long situations especially early on. The 49ers produced 5 turnovers last week, although can’t expect the same sort of generosity from the Giants that they got from the Saints. Alex Smith’s confidence will be high after the way he ended the game last week but will need help from his receivers, although Tight End Vernon Davis will provide some match-up problems for the Giants defense. The Giants have the better overall team but if the 49ers can nullify that Giants pass rush that could decide the game but if the 49ers get behind and need to throw the ball that will play into the hands of the G-Men. Unlike last week for both teams this could be low scoring and that could put the game in hands or rather the leg of two of the best field goal kickers the game has.
Prediction: Giants 20 – 49ers 17