Eli Manning and the New York Giants are coming off of a huge win against the New England Patriots to make them 6-2 and solidify their lead in the NFC East even further. However, the road ahead will be a tough one. On Sunday, the Giants play Jim Harbaugh's smash-mouth 49ers, who are 7-1.
This matchup is only the start of some rough weeks for New York, and a win against San Fransisco is vital.
This slideshow presents five things the Giants must do to come away with a win against the 49ers.
Frank Gore is back. He had an off-year last season, but this year, he has already rushed for 782 yards and five touchdowns on an average of 4.9 yards per carry. He has also had at least 100 yards rushing in his last five games, and guess what? The 49ers are 5-0 in those games. Frank Gore must be stopped.
Jonathan Goff was a great linebacker when it came to stopping the run, but he is on injured reserve, so it is up to players like Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, Chris Canty and Jason Pierre-Paul to stop Frank Gore.
Gore is the staple of San Fransisco's offense, and they rely on him heavily during most games. Alex Smith is a good quarterback, but he lacks the ability to dominate games and lead San Fransisco to consistent wins without the aid of a solid running game, and if he doesn't have one on Sunday, he will struggle.
If the Giants can keep Frank Gore under 100 yards, it will be a lot easier to win against San Fransisco.
This is an absolute must. Ahmad Bradshaw will be out against the 49ers, and the Giants have struggled on the ground all season. As if they needed any other reasons why not to run the ball, the 49ers are first in the NFL in rush defense.
With Isaac Sopoaga and Patrick Willis lurking on the other side of the ball and Brandon Jacobs having one of his worst seasons, Eli Manning needs to be ready to throw the ball, which may seem hard seeing as Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are both questionable for Sunday.
However, San Fransisco is only 22nd in the league in pass defense, meaning players like Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard could potentially have big games in place of Nicks and Manningham who's absence may not even be felt.
The Giants will have to rely on receivers and tight ends to move the chains though, because San Fransisco's run defense is a brick wall. However, their pass defense leaves something to be desired and is a weakness the Giants must exploit.
The Giants can't air it out if Eli Manning is on his back most of the game. The Giants have only allowed 15 sacks so far this year, but they have also allowed Eli to be hit 37 times. They also face what may be their toughest opponent yet in terms of pass rushing.
Most of the Giants' offensive line this year is old or slow, which doesn't bode well for their matchup against rookie defensive end/linebacker Aldon Smith, who has already notched 6.5 sacks this year. He is young, energetic and fast, and the Giants will have to find a way to keep him under control.
They will also have to deal with fearsome pass-rushers such as Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks, and if they can't, it will be a long day for Eli and the New York offense.
However, if the Giants can stop San Fransisco from putting pressure on Eli and give him time in the pocket, he will be able to pick apart a mediocre San Fransisco secondary.
The Giants haven't had a great return game in a long time. Domenik Hixon and Jerrel Jernigan have showed flashes of excellence as returners, but both are currently injured, and either Danny Ware or rookie Da'Rel Scott will start at returner against the 49ers. Whoever does needs to make himself known.
The Giants have always relied on the run more than the pass, but they will not have the luxury of a powerful ground game against San Fransisco, which means kick and punt returners will have to work hard to give New York good field position. Otherwise, the Giants will be looking at many long, difficult drives.
However, the Giants need to work on more than their return game. They also need to contain Ted Ginn, one of the league's most dangerous kick and punt returners. He has already taken back a kick and a punt for a touchdown so far this year and is an explosive playmaker.
In what is sure to be a close game already, the last thing the Giants need is for Ted Ginn to take one to the house. They also don't need a return game that sets them up on the 20 every drive. Special teams will play a key role in the outcome of Sunday's game, and New York needs to dominate San Fransisco on it.
It seems a little general, but it will be vital for the Giants to force turnovers on Sunday. Alex Smith has only thrown two picks and lost two fumbles this entire season, Frank Gore has only fumbled twice and the 49ers are plus-12 in terms of turnover margin.
The 49ers are a team that thrives on offensive consistency and long drives that keep the ball moving steadily. They aren't a team that throws deep every third play and scores quickly. This is why the Giants must force turnovers on Sunday.
San Fransisco likes to engineer long drives that lower the defense's morale, but nothing shifts the momentum around like a long, steady drive that ends suddenly in an interception or fumble. Turnovers can very quickly suck the life out of an offense, especially one like San Fransisco's, meaning it will be vital for New York to create them wherever possible.
The Giants absolutely have to make defensive stops, but they also need to strip the ball from Alex Smith and Frank Gore and sprint for loose footballs and wild throws whenever possible. Winning the turnover battle on Sunday would be a huge step towards 7-2.