NFC Championship Game Preview

Updated: January 20, 2012

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That’s why they play the games. The Divisional Round of the playoffs produced two shock results, as the high powered offenses of the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, who had won the last two Super Bowls between them, were ousted by the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers respectively. The giant-killers will now face off in this week’s NFC Championship Game, while the New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

New York Giants (11-7) @ San Francisco 49ers (14-3), Sunday @ 11.30pm

The Giants and the 49ers both engineered surprise victories against top-tier quarterbacks last week and their reward is an NFC Championship Game appearance. The 49ers narrowly beat the Giants 27-20 in week 10, with San Francisco stopping New York at their 10 yard line with 37 seconds remaining. Both sides are in great form and another close finish could be in store.

Although the 49ers defense shut down the Saints offense for most of the day, a late surge from Drew Brees meant it was left to the 49ers offense to rescue victory. For perhaps the first time in his seven year career, quarterback Alex Smith justified his number one overall selection in the 2005 Draft. Smith guided the 49ers to two touchdowns in the last three minutes as San Francisco dramatically clinched a 36-32 victory.

The Giants were involved in an even bigger upset, as New York’s defense shut down Aaron Rodgers and the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. Were it not for two questionable refereeing decisions, the Giants could have won by more.

New York continues to recreate the magic of their 2007 Super Bowl run. Like 2007, the Giants lost 38-35 to an undefeated team in December before beating them in the playoffs (Patriots and Packers), Eli Manning is on a hot streak and the Giants defensive line is creating a devastating pass rush.

San Francisco has come out of nowhere this year. Rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh has transformed the 49ers, who finished 6-10 last season. The success has been built around their stout defense, which only conceded three rushing touchdowns (1st NFL) and 14.3 points per game (2nd NFL).

The Giants’ 32nd ranked rushing attack has improved in the playoffs, but the 49ers should limit it sufficiently. The key for the 49ers will be interrupting the Giants passing attack, with Eli Manning throwing to three impressive wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham.

Offensively, Frank Gore should have success running against the Giants’ 19th ranked rushing defense, but the 49ers will need Alex Smith to continue his impressive form and dissect a poor Giants secondary.

The Giants have the momentum to execute another successful Super Bowl run, but the physical drainage of travelling from one coast to another after an emotionally draining victory could affect their chances.

With so little between the teams, either side could emerge victorious. The 49ers proved last week that they could stop a passing juggernaut, but the Giants have the greater balance between offense and defense. With Eli Manning playing at the top of his game, the Giants are primed to narrowly make it to their second Super Bowl in five years.

Key Stats:
Giants Passing Defense: Regular Season (212.0 yds/game – 5th) vs Post Season (255.1 yds/game – 29th)
Giants Running Yards: Regular Season (89.2 yds/game – 32nd) vs Post Season (133.5 yds/game – 7th)
Total Scoring: 49ers Defense (2nd) vs Giants Offense (9th)
Interceptions: 49ers Defense (Joint 2nd), Giants Defense (Joint 6th)
Sacks: Giants Defense (Joint 3rd), 49ers Defense (Joint 7th)
Passing Yards: Giants Offense (5th) vs 49ers Defense (16th)

The Odds: 49ers (-2.5)

Prediction: In a tight contest, Eli Manning leads the Giants to a late victory.

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