Giants vs. 49ers: Playoff Litmus Test Comes Sunday for New York

Jeff ShullAnalyst INovember 10, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 6:   Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants watches drills  before a game with New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on November 6, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The New York Giants travel to San Francisco this weekend to take on the 7-1 49ers in arguably their toughest road test of the season thus far. There are plenty of story lines to discuss, but most notably is how this game affects the NFC playoff picture moving forward.

Both the Giants and 49ers have a stranglehold on their divisions—the 49ers more so than the Giants—but the two will be looking to gain a leg up on each other in terms of a playoff bye week.

I think we can all agree Green Bay is headed for the top spot in the NFC, so the fight for No. 2 begins this weekend in San Francisco.

To say the Giants have their work cut out for them would be a severe understatement—the matchup looks to be a nightmare.

At this point, it would be safe to say the Giants have struggled to stop the run, run the football and protect Eli Manning. San Francisco is No. 1 stopping the run, No. 6 running the ball and is tied for eighth in the NFL with 22 sacks.

They are a championship caliber team that has taken the identity of their fiery head coach. They may not have the flashy players but they get it done and are a force to be reckoned with.

Frank Gore said it best:

"We are just playing selfish-free ball, and if the running game is not there, we are going to try our best to put it in the air. It is not just me, it is everybody, we are all one. When you get a team that is all as one, on the same page, we feel like we can do anything."

If there is any sort of silver lining, the Giants have been able to win despite all of these problems because their pass offense ranks No. 6 in the NFL. Eli has taken this team on his back and carried it to a 6-2 start.

If he can continue his magical run the Giants might be able to put up some points—San Francisco allows 255 yards per game through the air.

So looking at the numbers, the matchup clearly favors the 49ers. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin seemingly agrees. He raved about the entire team, but here is what he had to say about their defense specifically.

"What do you want to talk about? They're number one against the rush. They're number one in the red area. They've done an incredible job of taking the ball away. They have 19 takeaways. They're a plus-12 football team, which is an outstanding stat. They're technically very sound. They have outstanding personnel. The two inside backers are really good football players. They're powerful. They're big. Their safeties are very much involved in the run. And they're sound. They're very sound."

Watching the 49ers play you have to agree with him, there isn't much of a weakness. If anything, their low pass defense ranking is a product of always having a lead and teams having to throw to catch up.

The health of the Giants is also going to play a huge factor in this game. Ahmad Bradshaw still has not practiced since breaking a bone in his foot, and Hakeem Nicks just returned to limited action this afternoon.

At this point we can only speculate, but it would appear Nicks is on track to play. He claims to have suffered no setbacks according to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk.

"Ran and got up to full speed, felt good so we are going to stick with the plan, more and more each day and tomorrow I do a little bit more and no setbacks so that is a good sign. If by the end of the week everything is still going good, then it is looking good for me. I am definitely happy, no setbacks, no pain afterward. It's looking good."

Bradshaw hasn't even made it back to the practice field, so his status for Sunday certainly seems doubtful. That doesn't bode well against the aforementioned top ranked run defense of the 49ers.

The only way I see the Giants coming away victorious is if they find a way to slow down Gore and get after Alex Smith.

So far this season no one has been able to stop the 49ers from running the ball, and that has allowed them to take the ball out of Smith's hand and prevent him from making mistakes.

The 49ers are dead last in the NFL in passing attempts.

The task is certainly a daunting one for the Big Blue wrecking crew, but after last Sunday's performance against the Patriots you cannot count them out of this game.

The bottom line is this is a matchup between two well-coached teams with a refuse-to-lose attitude. The battle for NFC supremacy will be a bloody affair, with the victor having a slight edge for No. 2 in the conference.