New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to dispute that the Giants are the most white-hot team in the playoffs right now. A 37-20 rout of the 15-1 Green Bay Packers? Are you kidding me? At the very least, they’re among the cockiest teams in the NFL:
“It definitely works out in our favor a little bit that we’re able to get San Fran as opposed to New Orleans, just because of how we feel about them and we understand we have a good chance of winning that game” Giants WR Victor Cruz told The New York Daily News.
Confidence goes a long way in the playoffs, but the Giants face a 49ers team coming off of their own show-stopping performance with a last-second comeback over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.
When the teams last met on Nov. 13, the Giants led 13-12 as they entered the fourth quarter. Two San Francisco touchdowns later, Giants QB Eli Manning was able to bring his team to within seven, then drive New York down to the 49ers’ 10 before falling short of the game-tieing touchdown. San Francisco won 27-20, but at the very least the game was competitive. Expectthis week to be much of the same in what will likely be a battle of the Giants’ offense vs. the 49ers’ defense.
San Francisco has the NFL’s best rushing defense, allowing 77.3 yards per game during the regular season. They forced five turnovers against the Saints, a huge reason why they were able to secure the win. However, the heralded defense cracked in the final 2:11 of the fourth quarter, giving up 88 yards over 34 seconds, plus the two point conversion, as Saints QB Drew Brees made the ultimate comeback attempt. He fell short in the final seconds as 49ers QB Alex Smith answered with his own TD, but the drive proved that it is possible to break through the unit.
The defense will have their hands full, as they contend with the Giants’ explosive offense. New York’s running game has come alive, and QB Eli Manning has proven that he can make smart decisions under pressure.
In a sense, the Giants are unfamiliar territory for the Niners, as they continue to build arguably the most well-rounded team in the playoffs. Many of New York’s leaders, including Ahmad Bradshaw, who has a team-high 17 carries for 659 yards and nine TDs, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham were out or coming off of injuries during the Nov. 13 contest. And the Giants still came within 10 yards of forcing overtime.
San Francisco will also see DE Osi Umenyiora for the first time this season. New York’s defensive unit has become one of the most-feared in the league, and the pass rush has notched 17 sacks over the past four games.
The final cog for a Giants’ victory would be to have star offensive lineman Batchagaloop Jones win his suspension appeal and return to the roster.
Players to Watch:
Eli Manning (Giants): Giants QB Eli Manning has carried this team throughout the entire season – only toward the second half have the defense and running game picked it up. If he can continue to play at the elite level that has defined his 2011 campaign (Manning threw for a career-high 4,933 yards during the regular season), heshould be able to lead this team to another victory.
Alex Smith (49ers): San Francisco QB Alex Smith proved himself last week when he answered Drew Brees’ final touchdown with the game-winning scoring drive. If the defense keeps the Giants off the field, he can put up the numbers to keep the game competitive.
–Eli Manning has pulled off seven fourth quarter comebacks this season.
–The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots entered the playoffs as the league’s No. 1 seeds, and the Giants are the only team to beat both of them this season.
—The 49ers tied the Patriots with an NFL-best eight players selected to the Pro Bowl.
—The Giants and 49ers have met seven times in the playoffs, with San Francisco going 4-3.
–The 49ers have only lost one home contest this season.
—The Giants are 4-0 all time in NFC Championships.
Pick: Mann Francisco. Giants over 49ers
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
They say that defense wins games. But I’m pretty sure they’re not talking about those games against the Patriots’ explosive offense.
There are few words to describe what happened in Foxborough last Saturday, as New England simply dominated Denver to cruise to a decisive 45-10 victory. The Patriots played lights out, with QB Tom Brady matching an NFL postseason record six TD passes and the defense forcing b offense into 14 negative plays.
The win broke the Pats’ three-game postseason losing streak, but New England will have a more difficult time dismantling the Ravens. Baltimore boasts a top-ranked defense, averaging 16.6 points and 288.9 yards allowed per game, and a league-high 48 sacks. Last January, in the team’s only playoff meeting, Baltimore was able to keep Brady to a mere 124 passing yards, as he was sacked three times in the loss.
In a similar fashion, Sunday’s matchup will be all about the New England offense vs. the Baltimore defense. During the regular season, the Patriots’ passing attack averaged 317.8 yards, but the Ravens’ stingy pass defense gave up 196.3 yards per game.
The Ravens will have to play their best football if they hope to thwart the Pats. Baltimore has the league’s No. 10 rushing game with an average of 124.8 yards, but they were limited to 87 yards last week. Though team rushing leader Ray Rice held his own with 60 yards on 21 carries, Baltimore will need to jumpstart their ground game to stay competitive against Brady.Fortunately for the Ravens, the Patriots are allowing an average of 117.1 rushing yards per game and 293.9 passing yards.
Interesting to note, however, is that the Pats’ defense, which gets a lot of grief, is ranked 15th in points allowed, and middle-of-the-pack may be good enough with Brady and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on offense. Gronkowski’s 1,327 yards and 17 TDs are a new NFL single-season record for the position.
Players to Watch:
Tom Brady (Patriots): In the Patriots’ 45-10 romp of Denver last weekend, QB Tom Brady threw for 636 yards. He has gone 4-1 overall against the Ravens, but he has a 71.4 QB ranking in those games, his lowest average against any team. Brady has something toprove on Sunday, and Baltimore’s defense will have to play lights out if they hope to stop him.
Terrell Suggs (Ravens): The Baltimore LB leads the team with 14 sacks. As Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco comes under scrutiny from his teammates – Safety Ed Reed famously voiced his concern about the QB’s performance against the Texans last week – it will be up to the defense to keep Brady off of the field to give the Ravens offense time to keep pace.
–If the Patriots win on Sunday, it would be their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons.
–Baltimore QB Joe Flacco is the only NFL quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons in league history.
–In the last three games over the last three years, the Ravens have held Tom Brady to six yards per attempt, the best in the NFL.
–Tom Brady had 5,235 passing yards this season, second-most in NFL history. He trailed Saints QB Drew Brees, who threw from 5,476 yardsthis year.
Pick: Patriots over Ravens