A lot of the talk around the New York Giants matchup versus the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday has focused on each team's offense and defense. As an example, check out Bleacher Report's own Lou Rom and his 10 keys to the game. Nine of the 10 keys focus on either offense or defense.
What may end up deciding this contest, however, is special teams. It did in last year's NFC championship game when Kyle Williams lost two key fumbles on punt returns, including one that set up the Giants' game-winning field goal in overtime.
Last year, the Giants entered both their regular-season and playoff games against the 49ers at a severe disadvantage statistically on special teams. As you can see in the chart below, that is not the case heading into this season's matchup.
|Field Goals||2012 (Through 5 Games)||2011|
|NYG||13-14 made, 92.9%||19-24 made, 79.2%|
|SF||10-13 made, 76.9%||44-52 made, 84.6%|
|NYG||37.6 net yds/punt||39.2 net yds/punt|
|SF||39.4 net yds/punt||44.6 net yds/punt|
|NYG||23.9 yds avg.||23.2 yds avg.|
|SF||29.2 yds avg.||27.2 yds avg.|
|NYG||8.9 yds avg.||6.1 yds avg.|
|SF||10.1 yds avg.||12.4 yds avg.|
|Opponent Kickoff Returns|
|NYG||25.2 yds avg.||22.9 yds avg.|
|SF||30.9 yds avg.||23.1 yds avg.|
|Opponent Punt Returns|
|NYG||4.3 yds avg.||9.9 yds avg.|
|SF||23.6 yds avg.||8.1 yds avg.|
In 2011, the 49ers were better in all six facets of special teams except for a slight disadvantage in defending kickoff returns. So far in 2012, the Giants take three of the facets and have a distinct advantage in defending both punt and kickoff returns.
You can even make the statement that the Giants are better on special teams, which didn't seem like a possibility heading into the season.
While the Giants are a slightly better offensive team than the 49ers (second in total offense and points scored compared to sixth in total offense and tied for third in points scored for the 49ers), they cannot touch their defense.
San Francisco is allowing 8.6 less points per game and giving up 110.2 fewer yards. The only equalizer New York has on defense is their pass rush, but we are still waiting for this supposedly dominant unit to have an impact game.
In order for the Giants to win this game, they have to win the special teams battle. They need to have better starting field position than the 49ers and even get a missed field goal or two from David Akers. The numbers suggest that this is possible. We'll find out on Sunday if the statistics bear out.