There are always multiple keys to any football game. How Alex Smith does this weekend, what the weather is like and how the New York Giants cover Vernon Davis are all key factors.
But I believe there is one factor that is more important than any other. And it has to do with the San Francisco 49ers rushing attack and the Giants' ability to stop it.
All other factors I feel fairly confident in predicting the outcome of. I don't think the weather will be a huge factor this weekend. I see Smith having a good, not great, game with about 260 to 280 yards passing. Eli Manning will have a good game too, but his good is better than Smith's good. He might go for almost 350 yards.
The 49ers will win the turnover margin and they will be improved from the regular season on third downs and in the red zone. Michael Crabtree will be better than last week but he will probably have the third-most receiving yards of all wideouts on both teams behind two of the Giants.
The Giants will not run the ball effectively. The will commit two to three defenders to covering Vernon Davis. Neither team will use the blitz as a centerpiece of their game plan.
The 49ers will dominate field position and special teams. David Akers will probably kick three to four field goals.
Where am I going wrong here? The 49ers have played 17 games this year and the Giants have played 18. My point is that we know who these teams are. They have even played once this year so we have a blueprint for how these teams will attack each other.
Yes, Michael Boley left the game just before half and Ahmad Bradshaw missed the game entirely. But Frank Gore had zero yards on six carries. The 49ers almost would have been better off without him.
And the Giants, who averaged 89.2 yards per game in the regular season, rushed for 93 yards that game. The presence of Bradshaw this week will mean nothing.
My biggest question is what the Giants will do to stop the 49ers rushing attack. In their first meeting the Giants committed eight to nine defenders in the box to stop Gore and Kendall Hunter. They dared Smith to beat them. They will not make that mistake again. They tried it in their first matchup and it proved unsuccessful. And then we watched Smith play the game of his life last week.
They have to respect Smith more this time around or they have absolutely no chance.
With the linebackers and safeties moved back to defend against the possibility of the pass, can the pass-rush-heavy line of the Giants stop the run? If they can, they will win. If they can't, they will lose.
What keys to the game have I overlooked? What factor that I felt confident in predicting am I wrong about? Oh, and my guess is the Giants can't stop the 49ers run game effectively.