By Paul Dottino
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So both teams have gotten what they wished for this week.
There are Giants who said they preferred to draw the San Francisco 49ers rather than the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. And there are Niners who wanted no part of going to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers.
Well, fellas, it’s time for one of your teams to put up.
There’s a question about how muddy the field at Candlestick Swamp (Park) will be for this weekend’s game – and with good reason. The field is below sea level and always is moist at this time of year – even if there is no rain in sight.
A muddy track does two things: It hinders a pass rush, specifically from a group of speed rushers like the Giants. And it hinders defensive backs, who have trouble staying with receivers (although the Giants have the more talented receiving corps).
So let’s get to the Giants’ three key matchups to watch:
1. Giants QB Eli Manning and his skill position teammates vs. Niners’ opportunistic defense. This one is simple. San Francisco leads the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio, having come up with 23 interceptions (tied for second in the league) and 15 fumbles (tied for first) for a NFL-high 38 takeaways. The Niners have turned over the ball 10 times (five interceptions and five fumbles).
The Niners play an ultra-conservative game and wait for their opponents to self-destruct. Therefore, it is much harder for San Francisco to compete with a team that will not cooperate and forces the Niners to maximize their possessions. Given that the Niners hope to shorten the game, it becomes all the more necessary NOT to give them added possessions.
2. Giants’ front four vs. Niners’ offensive line. The Giants have a very athletic defensive front that performs much better on a hard surface so that each player can get a good jump off the line at the snap. They will lose this advantage if the field is muddy – and it’s expected to be.
Perhaps, a bigger problem for the Giants is that the Niners own a power running game that features a strong offensive line that specializes in brawling with its opponent to create holes for RB Frank Gore (1,211 rushing yards) and change-of-pace back Kendall Hunter (473). The Giants will bring their longest cleats to the game in an attempt to dig into whatever surface they run into next to the Bay. The Niners allowed 44 sacks this season; the Giants collected 48.
3. Giants P Steve Weatherford vs. Niners P Andy Lee. San Francisco dominated field position this season – it had the NFL’s best average start (33 yard line) and held its opponents to the league’s worst average start (24).
Lee owns a punting average of 50.9 and a net of 44. Weatherford’s numbers were 45.7 and 39.2, so he will need to be at his best to make sure the Niners do not tilt the field and allow their conservative offense to lean on their run-stuffing defense (NFL-low 77 yards per game vs. the rush). Niners returner Ted Ginn Jr. is nursing knee/ankle injuries, so Kyle Williams may have to step in.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, 49ers 20
PREDICTION RECORD vs. SPREAD: 10-8
What’s your prediction for Giants-49ers? Let Dottino know in the comments below…