By: Joel Beall
After all, San Francisco, despite submitting one of the more surprising campaigns in the 2011 season, would certainly be undone by their lack of experience and an unglamorous offense, while overcoming the defending Super Bowl champs in their backyard seemed an improbable endeavor for New York.
Apropos then, that the Niners and G-Men disposed of the two contenders last weekend and find themselves a game away from a chance at championship glory.
Turns out that the restrained offensive attack of the 49ers is quite potent. Alex Smith, whose legacy is transforming before our eyes from draft bust to San Fran savior, tossed for 299 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints, and the Niners' rushing game added 143 yards and a score for good measure.
Viewed as the team's weak link, Smith and the offense proved they are more than capable of holding their own in the postseason.
Of course, many of San Francisco's scores were the byproduct of excellent field position thanks to a whopping five turnovers caused by the 49ers defense.
The unit finished the season with a league-low 77.3 rushing yards to their credit, and held adversarial ground games out of the end zone until Week 16 of the season. The secondary wasn't too shabby itself, collecting 23 interceptions on the season (second-best in the conference) and holding opposing signal callers to a 73.6 QB rating (tops in the NFC).
Yet for whatever reason, due to lack of exposure, a relatively manageable schedule or perhaps East Coast bias, it seemed that the national consensus believed Jim Harbaugh's crew was a fraud. After knocking off the Saints in dramatic fashion, that theory seems to have been refuted.
The Giants can second the sentiment of suspicion.
With New York dropping four straight games in the third quarter of the season, most pundits were ready to reward the NFC East division crown to the Cowboys. A 3-1 finish down the stretch, including two victories over rival Dallas, earned the G-Men a trip to the playoffs.
The Giants smacked the Falcons 24-2 at home in the Wild Card round, and their front-line finesse thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul and company, as well as an overall sense of recovering health to the battered Giants, made New York a formidable foe for the first time since Halloween.
Alas, a trip to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field was not a pretty forecast, even for the most ardent of admirers.
Thus the gridiron would was shocked when the Giants walked into Green Bay and smacked the 15-1 Packers in the mouth, controlling the line of scrimmage all afternoon in New York's 37-20 upset.
The Giants defense harassed the adroit aerial attack of the Pack, holding Aaron Rodgers to just 264 yards and two scores while forcing four turnovers. Eli Manning put on a show, throwing for 330 yards, featuring three trips to the end zone, and Hakeem Nicks displayed his acrobatic abilities, finishing with seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Not bad for a team that was supposed to be at home at this juncture of the season.
So who comes out on top in the clash of conference champion aspirants? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the 49ers come out on top 63.3 percent of the time by an average score of 23-19.
|NFL Conference Championships|
|New York Giants||36.7||19||Boxscore|
|@ San Francisco 49ers||63.3||23||Simulate Game|
|@ New England Patriots||56.4||23||Ravens" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
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