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Giants vs. 49ers: Who Has the Edge in the NFC Championship Game?

Louis MustoContributor IIIJanuary 20, 2012

Giants vs. 49ers: Who Has the Edge in the NFC Championship Game?

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    The New York Giants have another Super Bowl trip in sight, but first they must do battle with the San Francisco 49ers and their frisky defense in the NFC Championship Game.

    To most, this game is a battle between two of the least expected teams in the NFL prior to the 2011 season. Yet, it is the most appropriate game for the battle of NFC supremacy.

    The first time these two teams played, the 49ers escaped with a convincing 27-20 victory over the Giants.

    Each team’s accomplishments this season have greatly surpassed their expectations, but neither squad will be happy with an NFC Championship letdown. With a trip to Super Bowl XLVI on the line, who holds the edge in this NFC rematch?

Giants Passing Game vs. 49ers Pass Defense

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    In Week 10, two 49ers interceptions and a collection of drops by the New York Giants receivers marred an otherwise solid day for Eli Manning. He passed for 311 yards and two outstanding touchdowns to Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.

    Unfortunately, the San Francisco 49ers’ ability to force turnovers was not a rare occurrence.  

    The 49ers finished the regular seasons tied for second in interceptions with 23. Three players finished the seasons with four or more interceptions—including Carlos Rogers, whom accounted for both of Eli Manning’s interceptions.

    Since that game, Manning has thrown more than one pick in just one game. In two playoff games, however, he has six touchdown passes and is averaging over 300 yards per game passing. He has been wildly successful for the Giants—both in the regular season and playoffs.

    Despite the Niners’ impressive interception numbers, they were average at best in pass defense over the course of the regular season. With all the talent the Giants boast in the passing game, they should be able to give the 49ers some trouble.

    As long as Manning can continue being careful with the football, he should be able to perform well against the 49ers once again.

    Edge: Giants

Giants Rushing Attack vs. 49ers Run Defense

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    Despite a recent upswing in the New York Giants rushing attack, their lackluster performance in the Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers was a pessimistic foreshadowing for what’s to be expected against the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked run defense.

    In their Week 10 meeting, the Giants rushed for an abysmal 3.2 yards per carry. The Giants, like most of the 49ers’ opponents, struggled to get anything going on the ground. Their attempts were not aided by Ahmad Bradshaw, who was sidelined with an injury and did not play for the Giants.

    Bradshaw is unlikely to be a detrimental improvement to the Giants run game. The Giants will try to incorporate the run game into their offense early, but the 49ers defense will force them to turn to the passing game to win.

    Edge: 49ers

49ers Passing Game vs. Giants Pass Defense

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    Alex Smith is no Eli Manning, but he proved in the 49ers’ phenomenal victory over the New Orleans Saints that he can be just as good when he needs to be.

    In fact, Smith did a great job against the New York Giants in Week 10, too. The former first-round draft pick slung the ball for 242 yards on 19-of-30 passing with a touchdown—the go-ahead connection to Divisional Round hero Vernon Davis.

    His performance lifted the 49ers to an impressive 27-20 score, despite being without stud running back Frank Gore.

    Smith had a huge day at home against the Saints last week, passing for 299 yards and three touchdowns. He showcased his ability to perform in a big spot when the 49ers need him. That success could spell danger for a Giants defense that struggled during the season in critical situations, such as Aaron Rodgers’ final minute drive in the Giants’ Week 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

    The Giants, however, have buckled down on defense since the playoffs have begun. They rank fifth among playoff teams in pass defense and have tallied six sacks in two games.

    Both teams bring a level of uncertainty into this realm of the game. Depending upon which unit decides to show up for the NFC Championship Game could decide who heads to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.

    Edge: Even

49ers Rushing Attack vs. Giants Run Defense

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    The New York Giants have excelled in the second half of the season and in the playoffs in run defense after a sputtering start. They currently rank fifth in rushing yards allowed this postseason and have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown.

    The San Francisco 49ers, on the other hand, have boasted one of the most Jekyll-and-Hyde rushing attacks in the NFL this season.

    Since Week 10 against the Giants, star running back Frank Gore has averaged just 53 yards a game on the ground. The decline is a result of an injury suffered vs. the Giants, as well as opposing teams stacking the box and challenging quarterback Alex Smith to make a play for the offense.

    Still, Gore did rush for 89 yards on 13 carries against the Saints, and is capable of a big day any week of the year. Combined with backup Kendall Hunter, the 49ers bring one of the backfield ensembles in the NFL.

    Edge: Even

Special Teams

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    While the New York Giants led one of the least impressive special teams units in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers bring forth the most elite.

    The 49ers were among the NFL’s best in the returning game and field the best kicker, David Akers, and punter, Andy Lee.

    The Niners special teams will give them an edge in the field position battle. Akers’ 44 field goals in the regular season was an NFL-best and benefited the Niners in a lot of close games.

    Edge: 49ers

Coaching

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    When Jim Harbaugh took the head coaching job this season for the San Francisco 49ers, not even he could have imagined a season this special. But now the former NFL quarterback finds himself in a game he’s most remembered for in his career: the conference championship game.

    This time, though, Harbaugh is a coach in the NFC and if his team fails, it won’t be because of a teammate dropped his Hail Mary pass in the final seconds.

    Harbaugh’s coaching ability shaped the 49ers this season and is what got them this far. Can the rookie head coach guide his team to the Super Bowl? If the Niners do what they have done all season, there’s no reason to believe they can’t.

    Unless, of course, Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants have something to say about it.

    Coughlin and his coaching staff have turned around a Giants team whose season appeared to be at a certain end just a month ago. Now, the Giants are primed and ready to take their second NFC Championship under Coughlin’s guidance.

    The stern disciplinarian has shown this season why he is widely respected as a head coach in the NFL. His confidence in his team and his ability to motivate them and prepare them for big games has given the Giants a major edge over opposing teams.

    The Giants coordinators, meanwhile, have shown an impressive ability to adapt and find new ways to help their players succeed, and in doing so, the Giants have a great opportunity in front of them.

    Edge: Giants

The Giants Will Win If...

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    In their first meeting with the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants played a strong game but ultimately fell short.

    Fortunately, that wasn’t for a lack of offensive prowess.

    If the Giants wish to defeat the 49ers and head to their second Super Bowl in five years, the defense must step up again. The Giants defense has been shockingly good in their first two playoff games, shutting down two of the NFL’s top offenses.

    The Giants defense is more than capable of conquering an average 49ers offense and must do so to advance to the Super Bowl.

The 49ers Will Win If...

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    The San Francisco 49ers overcame the New York Giants’ high-powered offense by forcing Eli Manning to throw two costly interceptions. For the 49ers to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1995, they will need to capitalize on every opportunity they get to force a bad throw from Manning.

    The Giants were 0-3 when Manning threw two or more interceptions in a game. In their Week 10 matchup, the Niners' Carlos Rogers intercepted Manning twice en route to a 27-20 victory.

Prediction

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    It was an unexpected matchup, but there is no better combination than the New York Giants’ stellar offensive unit and the San Francisco 49ers’ top defensive squad.

    This exciting rematch will showcase a lot of action and should come down to the wire.

    Alex Smith showcased his ability to lead the 49ers to a big victory, but no one in the NFL can match Eli Manning when the game is on the line.

    Both teams are on a roll coming into the NFC Championship Game, but the Giants defense has looked too good in the last four games to let Smith, Frank Gore and the Niners top them on the scoreboard.

    Giants 23, 49ers 19

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