This game coming up is a prime example of why it is so important for teams to earn either of the top two seeds, securing home field and the bye in the first round.
The Giants will be coming across the country on a short week. They are banged up and tired, having played for 12 straight weeks (their bye was in Week 7).
The 49ers, on the other hand, took the wild-card week off and are as rested and healthy as you could expect a playoff team to be.
What Do the 49ers Bring to the Table?
Besides the obvious perks of having home-field advantage, the 49ers are simply the better all-around team. In fact, there isn't another team that can stand up to the balance the 49ers exhibit from week to week.
The 49ers defense is the best unit in the NFL, hands down. They can pressure the quarterback all day long with a four-man rush, allowing the other seven defenders, none of which are slouches, to cover the field.
Justin Smith showed the nation why many of the top sportswriters have been calling for him to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award with his manly performance against the Saints' excellent offensive line. He literally was able to move his own man into Drew Brees a few times, and I don't expect we'll see a drop-off in performance next week.
If anything, I expect the 49ers to dominate the Giants offensive line, both in the running game and in passing situations. I expect Aldon Smith to continue his dominant run, sacking Eli Manning at least once, if not twice.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will terrorize the middle of the field, and Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown will be ball-hawking all day long.
Eli Manning has been spectacular lately, and I don't want it to sound like I don't respect what the Giants do on offense, but they simply are no match for the 49ers defense.
On offense, the 49ers have demonstrated in convincing fashion that they are a force to be reckoned with, even if they wait until the end of games to prove it.
Alex Smith led the league in the regular season in two major categories: fewest amount of turnovers and come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter. He did it again against the Saints, and anyone who still doubts his ability to win games for the 49ers needs to see a doctor, and soon.
Frank Gore is healthy and looking spry, though he was used less than normal against the Saints. His backup, Kendall Hunter, is one of the most dynamic young backs in the league, and he will keep the Giants on their toes with his quick burst and explosion through the hole. Hunter is also an extremely dangerous pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Vernon Davis had his coming-out party against the Saints, and I expect more of the same this week against the Giants. I don't expect the Giants to try and cover him one-on-one, but he'll still get his touches, and he will make the most of them.
The 49ers receiving corps is thin, but they do enough to keep the chains moving when they have to. This is the weakest link in the 49ers' chain.
Special teams could be the overriding factor in this game. The 49ers continue to prove the importance of playing well in all three phases of the game, and their special teams unit, from top to bottom, is top-notch.
What Do the Giants Bring to the Table?
The Giants are less balanced than the 49ers. They rely on the rifle arm of Manning to generate most of their offense, though they have been better at running the ball in the playoffs.
They were the worst running team in the league during the regular season, though, and you can expect the 49ers to completely shut down that aspect of their offense next week.
The strength of the Giants lies in their ability to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback. Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and the rest of the gang can really bring the heat, as they showed against the Packers (four sacks on Aaron Rodgers).
Their linebackers are no match for Vernon Davis, though, and I also expect the 49ers to be able to run right through the front seven, much in the same way they did back in Week 10.
The 49ers also exploited the Giants secondary in their last meeting. The reason? The 49ers were able to keep the Giants from getting much pressure on Smith. If you remember, the Giants had been on a tear right before that game, and they were leading the NFL in sacks.
Eli Manning is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated quarterbacks in the league. He is almost as good, if not as good, as Peyton Manning was before his injury.
His receiving corps is also one of the best units in the NFL, and they can torch any team on any given Sunday.
The thing is, I expect the 49ers to dominate the line of scrimmage, forcing Manning to get rid of balls sooner than he'd like, and I expect the Giants to turn the ball over at least three times.
I have to give the Giants running game credit. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are running with determination and skill. They won't get far against the front seven of the 49ers, though.
The 49ers have shown a few times this year that they can win a shootout. They showed the rest of the year that they could impose their will upon their opponent with a cruelty and ferociousness that makes me shiver with pleasure.
I know that it can be tough to beat the same team twice in a year, but I have confidence in the Harbaugh coaching staff to be well-prepared for any scenario the game might present.
I expect the 49ers to come out and lay the wood to the Giants in front of the Niner Faithful on Sunday night, making their way to their sixth Super Bowl.
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