January 22, 2012

NFC Championship Game - New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers

Vegas Line: Giants + 2
Rob’s Line: Giants + 0.5
As much as I’m looking forward to the AFC Championship Game that precedes this, this is what I really can’t wait for. Interestingly, the line hadn’t moved all week and we were able to back New York +2.5, but money has obviously been flooding in on the Giants as there’s been a small shaving of half a point which, in a game of this magnitude, is pretty seismic. I view this as a very even matchup and am only offering the Giants the narrowest margin possible because they’re the road team. So, where to start? Eli Manning? Alex Smith?

It’s a safe bet that were you to ask any sane football fan right now which quarterback they’d prefer to have lined up under center in Indianapolis on February 5, the choice would be Manning. Not that fans of San Francisco aren’t sane, but they’d perhaps be the only ones not to agree with that sentiment, and with good reason. Smith has been nothing short of a revelation this season and while it would be churlish of me to take anything away from him, the real credit for his resurrection (because that’s exactly what it is) goes to head coach Jim Harbaugh. During the lockout last year, he stated unequivocally that Smith was his starting quarterback and as man management masterstrokes go, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Regular readers will know that I’m no fan at all of the Niners, but boy, do I admire the job Harbaugh has done with this team. He’s instilled in them the importance of the fundamentals of football. They play hard…heck, they almost look old fashioned in this pass crazy era, but they know how to win. Something that’s been highlighted this week after the Giants trumped Green Bay is how poor the Packers were defensively, particularly when tackling. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has done a magnificent job in San Fran this year and the one certainty this week is that the Giants won’t be able to waltz down the field practically untouched, as looked to be the case at times last Sunday.
These two have recent history having played on the exact same field in Week 10, when the 49ers triumphed 27-20 and it was a game that went down to the final two minutes. However, to say that the Giants weren’t particularly healthy, especially on defense, compared to now is an understatement. Smith will face perhaps the best pass rushing triumvirate in the league in Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. Pierre-Paul is a rapidly rising star in this league and he accumulated 16.5 sacks during the regular season. He hasn’t managed to get to the quarterback once yet during the postseason so San Fran beware. Over their past four games (against the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons and Packers), the Giants are only yielding an average of 12.5 points per game and they face a 49ers team whose offense ranked 26th overall during the regular season. Reasons for optimism if liking the Giants plus two? You bet your life it is.
Momentum is always huge in the playoffs and neither team has an advantage heading to kickoff. Knocking off the Packers and Saints respectively was no mean feat, but, on paper, the Giants’ victory on the road looks the more impressive. However, the way Smith handled the offense on the game winning drive was eye opening.
The Big Blue possessed the league’s most anaemic rushing attack during the regular season, but they ran amok to the tune of 172 yards against the Falcons two weeks ago before reverting to type last week in Green Bay when gaining just 95 yards on the ground. The Niners excel at defending the run and it’s almost laughable that the Saints managed 37 rushing yards last week.
It’s stating the obvious somewhat that Manning will be the man New York look towards to get them to the big dance and he’s not lacking in confidence. He has the utmost faith in his receiving corps of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard and, cornerback Carlos Rogers aside perhaps, those four won’t be overly intimidated by San Fran’s secondary.
The biggest threat to New York’s secondary is tight end Vernon Davis and he had a phenomenal game against the Saints last week. Also, how good was it to see how much it meant to him to snare the winning touchdown? My, am I softening my stance towards these pests from the Bay Area? First, coach Harbaugh gains my admiration and now Davis. This will not do(!). Fans of receiver Michael Crabtree will point to the fact that he caught more balls than Davis during the regular season, but give me Davis any day of the week.
Running back Frank Gore has not, quite incredibly, had a 100 yard day for 10 weeks and it’s difficult to envisage him breaking that run this week. However, he runs tirelessly hard and fits the Harbaugh mould perfectly and should he earn a Super Bowl berth, I for one wouldn’t begrudge him the honour.
This one is so close to call so I’m taking any points on offer. To those of you who managed to grab the 2.5 points on the Big Blue, well done and I wish you well. I’m on your side this week.

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