Giants vs. 49ers: New York Emerging as the Clear-Cut NFC East Favorite

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 14, 2012

Oct 14, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning walks off the field after the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Until the Atlanta Falcons lose, it's hard not to consider them the early Super Bowl favorites in the NFC. But the defending champions continue to climb as onlookers begin to wonder if the New York Giants might have the recipe to capture Lombardi for the third time in six years.

New York dominated the hottest team in the NFL Sunday, running with ease against San Francisco's vaunted front seven and shutting down the league's top-rated running game in one of the most impressive road victories you'll see this season.

If this wasn't a statement game, then there's no such thing. The 49ers had outscored their last two opponents 79-3, and then they lost 26-3 at home. After being sacked six times by San Fran in last year's NFC championship game, Eli Manning was barely touched Sunday.

And on the other side of the ball, the New York pass rush finally broke out with six of them and a slew of pressure up front, allowing the Giants to win the turnover battle 3-0.

It's been years since the Giants have been this healthy this late in the season, and we're starting to see how dangerous that is for the rest of the NFL. Their only loss since that disappointing opener against Dallas came by only two points in Philadelphia. And now, if you exclude the first five minutes of last week's game against Cleveland, they've outscored their last two opponents by a combined total of 67-16.

With the Eagles off, a home win over Washington in Week 7 would give the Giants a solid early pad in the division. The schedule's tough, but it's beginning to look as though this team is in a position to run away with the NFC East. 

As far as the Super Bowl defense pursuit goes, there's a lot of time left on the clock. But I've said time and again that you can't repeat unless you get better, and improve on your weaknesses from the previous season. Sunday, we got more proof that the offensive line—which very nearly sunk them last year—has somehow gone from being a major weak spot to a tremendous strength. 

If that continues to be the case and they can remain relatively healthy, the division—and maybe a lot more—will again belong to New York in 2012.