The San Francisco 49ers may be the home team and the slight favorite in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, but thanks to experience and leadership from players like Antrel Rolle and Eli Manning, the New York Giants are the team to beat.
In a recent interview with XTRA 910 in Phoenix, Ariz., Rolle, who began his career with the Arizona Cardinals, talked about the state of the team leading up to last week's upset of the 15-1 Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round.
Rolle addressed the team following a loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 15 of the regular season. Following the speech the Giants went on to win the final two regular-season games to clinch the NFC East and they have beaten the Atlanta Falcons and the Packers in the playoffs.
He also discussed what he has learned about Manning since coming over from the Cardinals:
Something that I realized being a teammate as opposed to being an opponent of Eli Manning, I never knew how mentally tough he is. … This guy, man, he has that look on his face sometimes and it makes some people question him. That’s just a look. He’s extremely confident. He’s that dude. He’s the one that I consider that dude.
"That dude" had his best NFL season as the field general of the Giants this year, as he passed for nearly 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns while completing a respectable 61 percent of his passes. That success has carried over to the postseason, as he has averaged over 300 in the team's two playoff wins and has thrown for three scores in each.
There is no question that Manning is locked in right now, as is the Giants defense, on which Rolle is a vital leader. As a defensive back, Rolle probably didn't have his best regular season, with the G-Men ranking 29th in the league against the pass, but it has been a completely different story over the past month.
Suddenly, New York's defense has been nearly impenetrable, as the defensive line has been getting to the quarterback and the defensive backs have been physically dominating opposing receivers. The Giants have allowed just 22 points in two playoff games thus far against two of the best offenses in football in the Falcons and Packers.
As important as the defense is, I think most of the responsibility will fall on Manning's shoulders on Sunday. He has already been there and done that, as he won a Super Bowl four years ago, but he has made incredible strides as a player, and by all accounts a leader, since then.
The 49ers have an excellent defense, a great running game and quarterback Alex Smith is playing the best football of his life, but the Giants seem like a team destined for greatness. Several players on the team have already climbed to the top of the mountain before, and I believe that will help them do it again.