New York Giants or San Francisco 49ers--who wins?
There are convincing arguments for both teams. Even the gambling community is split down the middle. The Niners are a 2-to-2.5-point favorite, but that slim margin is based primarily on home field (Candlestick Park) advantage.
Here's why you might favor the Niners. They haven't lost since Thanksgiving. They rarely make mistakes and lead the league in takeways. They just outscored the New Orleans Saints, one of the most lethal offensive machines in NFL history. In that game, their QB, Alex Smith, never played better, showing uncanny passing skills in the clutch.
We haven't yet touched on the Niners greatest asset--their defense. Of the four teams vying for the Super Bowl, the Niners have the best defense. Their front seven is the finest in football. So is their run defense. So is their famed linebacker, Patrick Willis. The Saints' passing offense is far more dangerous than the Giants'. If the Niners controlled the Saints' passing for most of the game, they should be able to clamp down on the Giants' less imposing passing attack.
In the battle of the running games, the Niners have a distinct edge. Though their ace RB Frank Gore tailed off late in the season, he did pick up 89 yards last week against the Saints in 13 carries. While finishing last in rushing in season stats, the Giant running game revved up in the last few games, finally becoming a solid threat. But RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs probably won't put a dent in the Niners' run defense, which just gives up 77.2 yards per game and held seven teams to less than 3 yards per carry.
Before you crown the Niners NFC champs, consider this. The Giants are hot, on a late season roll, much like they were in 2007, when they won the Super Bowl--in early 2008--shocking the undefeated Patriots. Giants' QB Eli Manning is also having his best year, passing for nearly 5,000 yards. He's been a monster in the clutch, with an NFL record 15 fourth-quarter TD passes and a blistering 110 fourth-quarter passer rating.
History is on the Giants side. In four previous NFC championship games, the Giants triumphed every time. Also, the Giants' defense, so-so during the season--29th against the run and 16th against the pass--is peaking, particularly the rampaging pass rush, which could unnerve Smith. In the last four games, no opponent has scored more than 20 points against New York. A tough, relentless defense could grind the no-frills 49er offense to a halt.
Also in the Giants' favor, they have more experience on the big stage, having won a Super Bowl four years ago, with QB Manning as MVP. The Niners haven't been this far in the playoffs since their heyday in the mid 90s and might succumb to rookie jitters. Though 49er QB Alex Smith has been a lion all season, he could, at any time, turn back into the erratic player of old.
And one more thing. Add rain into the mix. A wet, muddy field increases the possibility of turnovers--making them an even bigger X factor.
Do you bet this game? Probably not--way too many X factors, way too close to call. If you have to bet, take the under--with the 42 total. The defenses should control this one and keep scoring at a minimum.
Since it's essentially a coin flip, let's do that and see what happens. Heads--Giants, tails--49ers.
Tails, it is--49ers.