Apparently, defense does still win championships.
The San Francisco 49ers will host the New York Giants at 6:30 p.m. EST on Sunday for the NFC Championship Game. The winner advances to the Super Bowl—you may have heard of that—to face either Baltimore or New England.
The 49ers and Giants advanced to the NFC title game thanks to incredible defensive efforts last week, out-muscling the No. 1 and No. 3 offenses in football, respectively, in wins over the Saints and Packers. San Francisco and New York forced turnovers and took advantage of weaker defenses in both games, and now they will bang heads in what should be another NFC Championship Game between these long-time rivals.
Giants at 49ers Betting Storylines
This week’s New York-San Francisco championship game harkens back to some of the most historic postseason games in NFL history.
Their last playoff meeting was a 39-38 thriller in the 2003 Wild Card Round in which the Niners overcame a four-touchdown deficit, and the last time they met in the NFC Championship Game was a classic at San Fran back in 1991.
This week’s game is a rematch of a Nov. 13 game in the Bay Area. The 49ers took that game, 27-20, on the strength of 15 fourth-quarter points. The Giants out-gained the Niners 395-305 and they actually moved the ball to the San Francisco 10-yard line with under two minutes to play. But their effort for a tying touchdown was thwarted and they turned the ball over on downs.
To say that these two franchises have history is an understatement. But right now the Giants are the hottest team in the NFL. This team has won four straight must-win games—three of which were games in which a loss would have ended their season. Those four wins have all come by at least 15 points and right now New York is just wrecking people.
Offensively, the Giants have been multidimensional and explosive the past two weeks. They have tallied 24 and 37 points so far in the playoffs and have managed 24 or more points in seven of their last eight games overall.
The Giants have managed at least 420 total yards in each of their playoff games. But the key to their offense has been the big-play capability of receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. That duo has contributed at least one touchdown play of 66 yards or longer in each of the last four games. And that doesn’t include last week’s game-changing Hail Mary touchdown by Nicks right before halftime in Green Bay.
The 49ers won’t have any fear of the Giants this week. This is a team they have already knocked off once and they will feed off the emotion of a raucous, title-starved San Francisco crowd.
San Francisco possesses the best defense left in the playoffs. They ranked No. 4 overall and No. 2 in the NFL in scoring during the regular season. The Niners also have one of the best rush defenses of the past 15 years and their front seven has been punishing opponents all season long.
Alex Smith has to be one of the most confident quarterbacks left in the playoffs. He produced last week’s incredible comeback and right now he has to be playing with house money. The Niners clearly have a lot of confidence in their quarterback—and in their incredible rookie coach, Jim Harbaugh—that is crucial heading into an elimination game like this one.
But if San Francisco is going to win, it will be on the strength of their power running game. The 49ers posses the No. 8 rushing offense in football and they will be pounding against, statistically, the league’s No. 19 rushing defense.
As has been the case throughout NFL history—exemplified by this season—the team that wins the turnover battle will most likely advance. New York didn’t force a turnover from the Falcons in their Wild Card Game, but they did stop Atlanta on fourth down twice. Last week the Giants won the turnover battle, 4-1, at Green Bay while the Niners benefited from the aforementioned plus-four turnover differential.
Giants at 49ers NFC Championship Game Betting Odds
According to NFL odds, the 49ers are token 2.5-point favorites in this game solely out of respect for the fact that they have the home-field advantage. It is telling that they haven’t even received the token 3.0-point favorite status that home field usually garners. The Niners were 4.0-point favorites in the first meeting.
The total opened at 43.5, but has since plunged down to 42.5 as everyone expects this to be a close, low-scoring game. Both teams played "over" their respective totals last week and the first matchup went "over" the total of 42.5.
Giants at 49ers NFC Championship Game Betting Trends
The Giants continue to thrive in the underdog role this time of year. New York are 7-0 ATS in their last six playoff games as an underdog and are 7-0 ATS in their last six road playoff games. The Giants are 7-1 ATS overall in their last seven postseason games and 6-2 ATS, both overall as an underdog and on the road.
Overall, the Giants are 35-17 ATS on the road and 20-8 ATS away from home against a team with a winning record.
San Francisco are now 15-5-1 ATS in their last 21 games overall and they are a stellar 19-6-3 ATS in their last 28 home games. San Fran is 12-3-1 ATS in conference games and 5-1 ATS against teams with a winning record. Although it has been a while since they have been in the postseason, the Niners are 4-1 ATS in their last five January games.
The favorite in this series is a perfect 4-0 ATS, and the home team has gone 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings. The Giants were 5-1 ATS the last six times these clubs have faced off, dating back to 2002.
NFL Predictions: Giants at 49ers NFC Championship Game Betting Picks
Right now I feel like it is impossible to bet against the Giants. They have absolutely manhandled both Atlanta and Green Bay, and I feel like both of those teams are better than the 49ers right now. The Giants are smoking hot and have an edge in talent at the skill positions. Mix in the fact that they essentially outplayed San Francisco in the first matchup (the Giants weren’t even playing nearly as well then as they are now) and I think that the Giants will keep rolling.
I don’t want to take anything away from San Francisco’s outstanding home win last week against New Orleans. They came to play in that game and made big play after big play. But New Orleans is a weak road team and they essentially spotted the 49ers a 17-point lead. The Niners won the turnover battle, 5-1, and yet they still needed a last-ditch, last-second drive to pull out the win.
I know there is some sharp money on the home team here and we will be pinned against the public by taking the Giants.
But right now, I think New York is playing the best football in the league. Take the points and the G-Men.
Robert is an NFL handicapper, and you can read more about him here.