The San Francisco 49ers will play host to the surging New York Giants on Sunday night in the second-to-last championship matchup of the NFL season. The two teams last met two months ago and the result was a 27-20 Niners win at Candlestick Park, the site of this weekend's epic showdown.
Although New York is playing with a handful of house money since topping the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers in consecutive weeks, the Giants are still that same team that fell short in San Francisco back on Nov. 13, 2011. Not surprisingly, the matchups once again favor the home team.
This game starts and ends with the 49ers' crushing rush defense. San Francisco ranked first in the league in 2011 in rush yards allowed. The Niners allowed a little more than 77 yards on the ground per game on average. San Francisco held the New Orleans Saints to just 37 rushing yards and a dominant 2.6 yards per carry in their divisional-round win last Saturday afternoon.
In the end, Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees was forced to throw the ball more than 60 times, and the results were two deflating interceptions that turned the box score and the tide of the game. Another former Super Bowl MVP quarterback will step into Candlestick Park this Sunday, but for as great as Eli Manning has been this postseason, he will struggle without a running game.
The Giants ran the ball 27 times against the Packers in the divisional round and 31 times in their wild-card win over the Falcons two weeks ago. They will have no choice but to either abandon the run this Sunday or to go up against a wall on first and second downs, ultimately relying on the arm of Manning constantly in 3rd-and-long situations.
New York ran the ball 29 times for 93 yards back in the two teams' November 2011 matchup, but Manning threw the ball exactly 40 times. Like Brees last Saturday, Manning threw two crucial picks that derailed the Giants' chances and sealed the deal for the Niners.
A team without a running game is one-dimensional. The 49ers eliminate opponents' running games in a variety of ways and expect Big Blue to be discouraged by halftime like nearly every other San Francisco victim this season.
The Niners' stout defense gives them a stadium-sized margin for error. New Orleans snapped 12 more plays than San Francisco last weekend, but still lost by four points. New York snapped 18 more plays than San Francisco back in November 2011, and still lost by seven points.
The Niners are 8-1 at home this season, including the playoffs, and seven of those wins have come consecutively. Considering San Francisco has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season, the 49ers are without a doubt the better and more motivated team, and they are itching to shake the pretender tag en route to booking their trip to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.