NFC Championship: Which Team Has the Edge in Each Aspect of the Game?
The NFC East division champion New York Giants will take on the NFC West division champion San Francisco 49ers tomorrow in Candlestick Park to see who will take the trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl. The Giants faced the 49ers earlier in the season, losing 27-20 in Candlestick.
The rematch is shaping up to be a close game once again. The Giants are coming off a huge win against the Green Bay Packers who were favored to win the Super Bowl. The 49ers are coming off a huge win as well, defeating the New Orleans Saints, also a favorite to come out of the NFC and possibly win the Super Bowl.
Many believe that these teams are evenly matched, and certainly the point spread agrees with that. The Giants are two and a half point underdogs heading into tomorrow's game.
But who is the better team? Who has the edge in this game? This article will break down each piece of the offense and defense on both the Giants and the 49ers to see who, truly, has the edge.
Quarterback Edge: Giants
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Starting at the quarterback position, this one is a no-brainer. Eli Manning and the New York Giants have the edge over Alex Smith and the 49ers at this position.
Manning had one of his best seasons ever with the Giants. With almost 5,000 passing yards on the season and 29 touchdowns, the Manning-led Giants were fifth in the league in passing yards per game with 295.9.
On top of his great regular season, Manning has had an amazing postseason up to this point. With six touchdowns, a 121.8 quarterback rating and only one interception in his two games against the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers. Manning has showed why he deserves to be in the talk of being an elite quarterback in this league.
On the other side of the ball is the 49ers Alex Smith. This year was no doubt Smith's best year at quarterback for the 49ers, reaching the 3,000 passing yard mark and 90-plus quarterback rating for the first time in his career.
The most impressive Smith has been this season was last week against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, where his three touchdowns (along with one he rushed in himself) and zero interceptions carried his team to victory in a game that had four lead changes in the last four minutes. His ability to come through in the clutch proved that he was a better quarterback than many people made him out to be.
Not knocking Smith in any way, but he is just not on the same level as Manning. Smith has proven once that he can overcome adversity in the playoffs, while Manning has showed it over and over again, in 2008 on the way to his Super Bowl and this season against the Green Bay Packers.
When it comes to the playoffs, Manning plays on a higher level than nearly any other quarterback in the league. Also, he is more essential to his team's success than Smith, who has a superb running game to fall back on (which will be discussed in the next slide) which is why Manning and the Giants have the edge at quarterback.
Running Back Edge: 49ers
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If the quarterback edge was a no-brainer, than the running back edge is without a doubt a no-brainer also. Frank Gore and the 49ers clearly have the edge heading into their matchup with the running of Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, DJ Ware and the Giants.
A major reason for the 49ers success this season was their running game, and Frank Gore is at the heart of it. His 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns were a major reason the 49ers were eighth in the league in rushing yards per game with 127.8.
For the Giants, however, it was a much different story. Their usual one-two punch of Jacobs pounding it down the middle and Bradshaw bouncing to the outside and gaining huge chunks of yards like they did in previous years was proven ineffective this year, as they had the least rushing yards per game of any team with 89.2.
Jacobs has appeared to have gotten soft since he returned from an injury a year or two ago. He doesn't run over people like he used to, which leads me to believe he has a fear of getting hurt.
There are some games where Jacobs and Bradshaw play great, but nothing compared to the way Gore plays for the 49ers week in and week out.
Gore was injured in the 49ers victory over the Giants this season, which gives them even more of an opportunity to score. Gore finds a hole, charges through it and is one of the best running backs in the league.
Jacobs and Bradshaw used to be one of the best pairs of runners in the league, but it appears that those days are over. With that said, the edge at running back obviously goes to San Fran and Gore.
Wide Receiver Edge: Giants
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Taking a look at wide receivers, the edge goes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham of the New York Giants.
Perhaps it was the superb play of Eli Manning, but the Giants wide receiving core played absolutely spectacular this year. Victor Cruz had a breakout season, with over 1,500 yards receiving, Hakeem Nicks was also impressive with nearly 1,200 yards receiving, and even Manningham had some big time plays for the Giants.
Seeing how good Cruz was in the regular season, teams decided to double team him during the postseason, rendering him nearly useless to the Giants. However, this opened up the door for Nicks and Manningham, who combined have six touchdowns this postseason.
This is why the Giants have the edge at wide receiver. No matter who you choose to double cover, whether it be Nicks or Cruz, one of them is going to be open and you also have Manningham to worry about.
The Giants have so many threats at the wide receiver spot to accompany one of the most accurate passers in the NFL in Manning, and it is the main reason their offense was so good this year.
Not to take anything away from 49ers Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree, but the Giants just have so many targets to throw to that it is hard to say that another team has the edge at the wide receiver spot. With Cruz, Nicks, and Manningham being more impressive than the 49ers wide receivers, along with the edge the Giants have of Manning over Smith at quarterback, the Giants have the clear edge at wide receiver.
Tight End Edge: 49ers
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Giants Jake Ballard? 49ers Vernon Davis? Questions anyone? The 49ers have the clear edge at tight end.
Vernon Davis is one of, if not the best tight end in the NFL. With 792 yards and six touchdowns, he is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
Davis has already been proven a hero this postseason, catching the game-winning touchdown pass in the Saints game last week, which just proves even more how amazing he is.
With the loss of Kevin Boss to the Oakland Raiders this season, some needed to step up and fill the hole for the Giants at tight end. Jake Ballard answered that call.
The rookie tight end had 604 yards and six touchdowns for the Giants this year, exceeding their expectations. Not only did he fill in for Boss, he produced just as well if not better.
Despite Ballard's impressive numbers, Davis is the better tight end. Davis can be and is the go-to receiver late in the game when the 49ers are down, whereas Ballard is most likely the fourth or fifth option for the Giants.
Offensive Line Edge: Giants
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As far as offensive line edge, I say that the edge goes to the New York Giants.
The Giants give Manning plenty of time to throw the ball, and can stop many of the best pass rushers in the league from even getting to him once an entire game. It was a much different story for the 49ers, who let Alex Smith get sacked quite frequently in the season.
Looking at the sacks given up this year by both teams, the Giants only gave up 28 while the 49ers gave up 44. When it comes down to it, whoever protects the quarterback more gets the edge at offensive line. In this case, it is the Giants.
Defensive Line Edge: Even
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Its very hard to say who has the edge as far as defensive linemen go for these two teams. In some aspects it is the Giants, in others it is the 49ers.
When it comes to rushing the quarterback, the edge goes to the Giants. The Giants have five people that they can legitimately say are pass rushers that can go in any play and sack the quarterback. Led by Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora, the Giants defensive line puts pressure on the quarterback and forces him to make mistakes, which is key to their success in all the games they play.
Now to the 49ers. They might not have gotten to the quarterback as much as the Giants did this year, but they certainly stopped running backs.
The 49ers were first in the entire league in rushing yards allowed per game with 77.2, that's about as much as Jacobs and Bradshaw have combined on some days. The Giants, on the other hand, were not so good at stopping the run this year, 19th in the league with 121.2 yards allowed per game.
The Giants have the edge in sacking the quarterback, the 49ers have the edge at stopping the run. Both lines are very impressive, which is why there is no clear-cut edge on the line.
Linebacker Edge: 49ers
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Again, 49ers, Navorro Bowman? Giants, Michael Boley? Need I say more?
The 49ers without a doubt have the edge at linebacker. Another big part of being able to stop the run are your linebackers.
Since the Giants and 49ers have equally impressive defensive lines, but the 49ers were much better at stopping the run than the Giants, one must look to the linebackers for the answer.
The answer is Navorro Bowman. Bowman is an amazing open field tackler and key to the 49ers defensive success.
Ever since Antonio Pierce retired from the Giants, they have not been able to find a solid replacement for him at the middle linebacker spot. Boley stepped in this year and greatly matured. He had two big sacks last weekend in the Giants win over the Packers, but he still has not reached the point of being great.
Bowman is great. Boley is good. Edge: 49ers and Bowman.
Secondary Edge: Giants
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When you have one of the best if not the best defensive team in the league, its going to be very hard for anyone to have a defensive edge over you in anything. For the 49ers this is no exception. Statistically they have the edge in the secondary, but for this game I think its the Giants will have the edge.
The 49ers were 16th in the league in passing yards given up per game with 230.9 which would be terrible, if the Giants weren't 29th with 255.1 yards given up per game.
Injuries plagued the Giants once again this season. With arguably their best safety Terrell Thomas out for the entire season and first-round pick Prince Amukamara out for half the year, the Giants were stitching together an already weak secondary.
The 49ers secondary is not much better, but they are better than the Giants. However, the Giants have been playing better as of late and have not been giving up as many big plays as they were in the beginning of the year.
The reason? They now sack the quarterback. If the Giants defensive line gives the quarterback pressure, he will have to rush to make decisions or not get the ball off in time for his receivers to burn the Giants weakened secondary.
With the combination of a decent quarterback in Alex Smith, the pressure the Giants defensive line has constantly been putting on opposing quarterbacks in the past few weeks, and the fact that the secondary as a whole has been playing better, the Giants have the edge.
Special Teams: 49ers
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We have finally reached the end, and what better way to end than with the way many games end in football: special teams. The 49ers take the final edge in special teams play.
49er kicker David Akers and Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes both rarely miss, but Akers has had more tries and more have gone in so he has the edge. 49er punter Andy Lee also has the slight edge on Giants punter Steve Weatherford, averaging about five more yards per punt.
Both teams are about even when it comes to both receiving and defending punt returns and kick returns.
With that being said, having a better punter and kicker puts the Giants ahead of Tom Coughlin, who always stresses how important special teams is.
Overall Edge: Giants
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Final Score: Giants four, 49ers four and one tie. So how is it that the Giants have the edge?
There is one aspect of the game that was left out here, and that is experience. The New York Giants are the more experienced football team in the playoffs.
Eli Manning has proven that he can time in and time out lead his team to a playoff victory. Alex Smith has only done it once.
The Giants defense has greatly improved over the past few weeks, especially in the postseason. If they are able to hurry Alex Smith and force him to make bad or incomplete throws, the Giants will be in a good position to win.
The Giants might not be able to run the ball very much this game, but that should not be a problem. The 49ers secondary is good, but not great. Nicks, Cruz, Manningham and whoever the 49ers leave open, Manning will be able to find and make plays.
If the Giants are able to rush Alex Smith, limit Frank Gore, and utilize their wide receiving depth, the Giants will win the game. It is going to be a hard fought, intense game that will go down to the wire, but if the Giants are able to do everything they need to do right right, they will pull off the victory.