NFL Playoff Picture: Top 7 Matchups in Giants vs. 49ers Championship Game

Jesse Reed@@JesseReed78Correspondent IJanuary 16, 2012

NFL Playoff Picture: Top 7 Matchups in Giants vs. 49ers Championship Game

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    The New York Giants are on their way to San Francisco to face the 49ers in the NFC championship game. This contest features some electric matchups on both sides of the ball.

    Both teams are coming off upset wins, and both defeated the top offenses in the league (Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints).

    I guess it's safe to say that defense will have something to do with the outcome.

    Let's take a look the top seven matchups and determine which team has the edge.

Giants Offensive Line and Running Backs vs. 49ers Front Seven

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    On paper, this isn't even a matchup worth highlighting.

    The Giants feature the worst running game in the NFL.

    The 49ers feature the best defense against the run in the NFL.

    The fact that I'm talking about this matchup has everything to do with the attitude and determination of the Giants locker room and nothing to do with the dismal performance they had throughout the year.

    In the last four games, the Giants have shown more balanced on offense, and it might have something to do with their current winning steak. They averaged 29 rushes for 112 yards during this stretch, and I believe they will try and continue this strategy against the 49ers.

    They will need to, because the surest way to lose to the 49ers is by becoming one-dimensional on offense. 

    They will try to establish the running game, but they will fail as all others have failed before them.

    Significant Edge for the 49ers

49ers Offensive Line and Running Backs vs. Giants Front Seven

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    Giants fans are quick to point out that their defense held Frank Gore to only six carries for zero yards, but he was already nursing an injury before that game ever happened, and Kendall Hunter showed he's capable of bursting through their defense with ease.

    I thought, along with just about everyone else, that the 49ers would employ a heavy rushing attack against the New Orleans Saints in order to control the clock and keep Drew Brees off the field. I was wrong.

    Still, I'm believing that this will be the game for the 49ers to demonstrate their ability to control the game with defense and a strong running game.

    Heck, I just don't want Eli Manning getting too many chances.

    The 49ers can and will run through the front seven of the Giants. Gore and Hunter are an exceptional combination, and I expect Hunter to have a phenomenal game.

    As good as the Giants are at pass rushing, they can't stop the 49ers ground game. 

    Slight edge to the 49ers

Giants Pass Rush vs. 49ers Offensive Line

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    The Giants defensive line is finally getting healthy, and they are peaking at just the right time. 

    Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Michael Boley and Chris Canty all have the ability to break through the 49ers offensive line at any given moment. 

    The Giants do a fantastic job of rotating their big guys too, which keeps them hungry and keeps them fresh. 

    The 49ers were able to hold the Giants off of Alex Smith for the most part in their first meeting, only sacking him twice. 

    The Giants weren't healthy then, though, and they are fully loaded and ready to rock-and-roll on Sunday night.

    Big edge for the Giants

49ers Pass Rush vs. Giants Offensive Line

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    Justin Smith is the newest member of the Honey Badger family. He just takes what he wants...

    If you haven't already done this, do yourself a favor and re-watch the second half of the divisional game against New Orleans.

    Smith was unstoppable.

    This is Smith's first playoff victory, and he is hungry for a championship in his 11th year. He is playing inspired football, and he is the heart and soul of the 49ers defense (no disrespect to Patrick Willis).

    Ray McDonald and rookie Aldon Smith aren't half-bad, either. 

    The Giants did a great job of protecting Eli Manning throughout the 2011 NFL season, though, ranking seventh in the league, and they will provide a challenge to the 49ers. 

    Big edge for the 49ers 

49ers Wide Receivers and Tight Ends vs. Giants Secondary

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    If the Giants are smart, they will put Corey Webster on Vernon Davis all game long. 

    I don't believe they will, though, and I am expecting another big game for Davis against the Giants secondary.

    In the first meeting between these two teams, Delanie Walker was Alex Smith's go-to guy. His availability for this game is still unknown. If he can go, the 49ers become even more of a threat to have a big game through the air if their offensive line holds up at least half the time.

    The 49ers receiving corps is thin, but don't discount Michael Crabtree or Kyle Williams. Both are capable of stepping up with a huge game.

    The Giants secondary is prone to giving up big plays, as we've seen all year long. They are also capable of making some huge plays for their team, creating turnovers with interceptions and forced fumbles. 

    49ers have a slight edge 

Giants Receiving Corps vs. 49ers Secondary

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    Eli Manning is a terrific quarterback, one of the best in the NFL. His receiving corps isn't half-bad, either.

    Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have turned into one of the deadliest groups in the league. All three men are home-run hitters, and they all have a knack for coming up with some amazing catches.

    If the Giants offensive line can figure out a way to give Manning time to throw the ball, it could be a long day for the 49ers secondary.

    Don't count them out, though. People have been discounting this group all year long. That's fine. I'm pretty sure they love it.

    Giants with a slight edge 

Alex Smith vs. Eli Manning

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    In terms of leadership and poise, this matchup is a push. 

    In terms of pure passing ability, Manning gets the nod.

    In terms of athletic ability outside the pocket, Smith gets the nod.

    In terms of underrated quarterbacks, it's a push.

    Obviously, Eli has the edge due to his experience and his weapons, but I can't discount Smith's knack for coming back to win games. 

    Both quarterbacks led the league with five comebacks in 2011. Smith did it last week...twice.

    I wouldn't put it past these two underdogs to come out and have another epic battle like the one Brees and Smith had in the divisional round. 

    Minuscule edge goes to Manning