Ten days ago, I picked the San Francisco 49ers to lose to the New Orleans Saints. Their defeat was near until Alex Smith and Vernon Davis decided to prove me wrong. The 2006 first overall draft pick threw a great pass straight to the heart of the defense and Davis brought it down for a touchdown, leaving little time for a Saints answer.
The 49ers are in the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1997, and the only obstacle that blocks the road to the Super Bowl is Eli Manning and his teammates.
The New York Giants pulled off a surprising 37-20 win in Wisconsin and eliminated the Green Bay Packers—the mass favorites for the Super Bowl title. Tom Coughlin’s men were dominant for the majority of the game and absolutely deserved the qualification to the next round.
In 1991, the Giants and 49ers teams collided in one of the toughest matches in NFL history. The Giants won 15-13 in a hard-fought game and went on to win Super Bowl XXV. No doubt, the 49ers are relishing the chance to duplicate that story, with a single change in the plot—replacing the Giants in the story’s lead role.
Personally, I think the 49ers have the upper hand in this matchup. The Giants are on a four-game winning streak, but they have been playing week in and week out since late October. They traveled to Green Bay and back last week, and they have to travel again for this game.
The NFC champion will be decided in the famous San Francisco Bay Area. The Giants will have to face the 49ers in a sold-out Candlestick Park. It’s not an easy task, but Lambeau Field was not a problem, so I don’t expect them to be troubled by the home crowd. The real disadvantage is they have to fly from coast to coast—that’s 2,582 miles.
Additionally, the 49ers will face a less competent offensive line than they did against New Orleans.
The Giants allowed four more sacks and 21 more quarterback hits than the Saints did in the regular season. However, the most important fact is that the Giants' average yards per rushing attempt is 3.5—the Saints’ respective number is 4.9. Going against the NFL’s most efficient defense against the run, the Giants will have problems establishing their game.
Standing only one game away from the big game, the 49ers have showed the world that they are a tough-to-break team. Alex Smith has six fourth-quarter comebacks this year, and the defense has been superb, allowing only 317.8 yards per game and 15.35 points per game (including postseason).
Last but not least, Jim Harbaugh’s team has the momentum. New York might have beaten the Packers, but the 49ers made a comeback against the hottest team in the league.
The Niners should aim at the week points of their opponent. If they get the lead, they should be able to control the game, and that’s what carried them so far. For me, they are the favorites for the NFC title.
No matter what happens on Sunday, San Francisco had a marvelous 2011 NFL season. The franchise improved from a 6-10 record to 13-3, won the NFC West and reached the NFC Championship—not bad with a rookie head coach, right?
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