The Case for the San Francisco 49ers, by Charles Kurz
After last week’s upset win over the Green bay Packers, Giants fans are feeling all the similarities to the Giants’ run in 2008. However sadly, the Giants destiny is to fall one game short of the “Big Game”. The 49ers have the upper hand for several reasons.
Besides the obvious perks of having home-field advantage, the 49ers are simply the better all-around team. In fact, there isn’t another team that can stand up to the balance the 49ers exhibit from week to week. The Niners have the best defense in the NFL by a mile and, as good as the Giants passing game has been lately, I do believe they will struggle this week. I expect the 49ers to dominate the Giants’ offensive line, both in the running game and in passing situations. I expect Aldon Smith to continue his dominant run, sacking Eli Manning at least once, if not twice, as he is the most dominant pass rusher per snap in the NFL.
On the offensive side of the ball, the underrated 49ers should prey on a very porous Giants secondary. The key to the 49ers offensive game plan may be Tight End Vernon Davis, who is coming off a career game against the New Orleans Saints last week. The Giants have some the worst coverage linebackers in the NFL, and therefore are going to be forced to spend a lot of the game double-teaming the ultra-talented Davis.
In my opinion, the most important factor may be the gigantic special teams advantage that the 49ers have. Their Kicker, David Akers, and Punter, Andy Lee, were both selected to the Pro Bowl this season for good reason. Akers set an NFL record this season with 44 field goals made, and he connected at an 85 percent rate to boot. Lee averaged nearly 51 yards per punt, leading the league in many key punting categories. Field position will be at a premium, so Lee’s punting and Akers’ ability to hit crucial field goals will be of the utmost importance.
Overall, while I would not be shocked if the Giants pulled another upset due to Eli Manning’s superb play of late and their amazing defensive line, I expect the 49ers to win fairly comfortably and make it to their first Super Bowl since 1994.
Niners 24–Giants 14
The Case for the New York Giants, by Matt Cott
When it comes to a conference championship game, it’s always two incredible teams–anything can happen. But when the New York “Football” Giants, maybe the most inconsistent team in football, are in it? Things will be even more hectic.
The Giants rebounded from a loss to the Redskins (THE REDSKINS!) by reeling off wins over the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons, and Packers. Not to say the recency effect isn’t anybody’s head, but when they play to their potential, there’s no doubt–they can beat any other team in the league. The 49ers were polar opposites, as one of the most consistent teams in the league. Consistently great, that is. With a record-setting run D, a methodical yet efficient offense, and the best special teams in the league, there isn’t a team better suited for the playoffs than the Niners. When breaking down the game, I came to the conclusion that simply, the Giants would control their own outcome, not the Niners.
With Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw being stifled by Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, & co., the pressure will be on Mr. “Elite” to throw the ball about 40 times. With Cruz & Nicks running deep, this could end up being more efficient, as in the first matchup of the two teams, the Giants averaged 3.2 yards per rushing play, and 7.6 yards per passing play. Something tells me the Giants won’t be running the ball 29 times again. While their 4th quarter rally fell short, the Giants controlled much of that game, winning the time of possession battle easily and outgaining San Francisco by 90 yards. The Giants’ passing game was ranked 4th in the NFL in the regular season, according to footballoutsiders.com DVOA rankings, checking in right behind the Saints, whose similar style of offense the Niners defeated last weekend. When looking at that defeat though, one word comes to mind: turnovers. The Saints absolutely had their way last weekend, posting 472 total yards and 32 points. If not for their four turnovers, the Saints are winning that game easily; that type of 49ers performance is simply unsustainable. The Giants have turned the ball over just once in the playoffs so far, against defenses that averaged 1.9 and 2.4 turnovers/game in the Falcons and Packers, respectively.
Bill Barnwell praised the Giants’ offensive performance this postseason, saying, “By comparing the Giants’ postseason performance to a regular-season offense that put up numbers at a similar level…the Giants have morphed into an offense that features Aaron Rodgers handing off to Arian Foster behind the Houston offensive line, with Drew Brees coming in to avoid sacks and keep the offense on the field on third down, while retaining the conservativeness of Alex Smith and avoiding fumbles altogether. That’s quite impressive.”
On the other side of the ball, I am much more worried. As much as I love JPP, Osi, and Tuck, the Niners won’t be dropping back much. In the team’s first matchup this season, the Giants only had 2 sacks. Alex Smith will focus on play-action and quick 3 step drops, not leaving much room for the Giants to create pressure. Instead, they will need their run D to be stout against Frank Gore, and force the Niners to attack through the air if they fall behind. What will help the Giants’ ability to clog up the box is Alex Smith’s inability to throw the ball deep accurately. The Giants’ biggest weakness on D has been their ability to stop the deep ball, as Antrel Rolle is a great player around the box, but struggles in coverage. Aaron Ross is another guy who many teams have been able to take advantage of. The 49ers simply don’t have the weapons outside to pick on him. Michael Boley had a big week last week at linebacker, and has 14 tackles in the playoffs. Let’s just say middle linebacker Greg Jones will have to be a little more active than he has been, though. Chris Canty is playing, despite leaving last week’s Packer game early with an undisclosed knee issue. The Giants’ defense will have to play from the inside-out, with the D Tackles and Middle Linebacker having huge roles in the run support. Forcing San Francisco to go to the air is crucial; it will allow the rest of the Giants’ gameplan fall into place, with the pass-rush creating havoc and the pace of the game speeding up.
The Niners have many things going for them (i.e. the weather, home-field, special teams, and of course that run D), and I’m not denying any of them; they’re why the Niners are favored in the game. What will carry the Giants to victory, however, is their ability to spread the ball out on offense, and jump out to a quick advantage. Looking back from there, they will be grind it out (even in the rain!)
Giants 27–Niners 23
 He is.
 Cruz and Nicks are definitive weapons. The only Niner who I would term a “weapon” is Vernon Davis. Add in the difference in QB play, and you see where this preview is heading.
 Yes, the Niners are way above average in forcing turnovers, but 4? On average for the year, they forced 2.38 turnovers/game, including 2 against the Giants in Week 10.
 Credit where credit is due: high quality preview (as well as mine) http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7482001/bill-barnwell-previews-nfc-title-game-new-york-san-francisco
 He’ll be going up against a guy who is like the mirror image of him, but on offense: Ted Ginn Jr. Lots of talent, not a lot of skills or football IQ.