By Steve Silverman
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It would seem that the New York Giants are going to get pushed hard when they go to San Francisco on Sunday to play the 49ers.
After all, the Niners were the consensus favorite to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season, and they look like a juggernaut at this point in the year.
They have a loss on their record thanks to an uninspired effort against the Minnesota Vikings, but head coach Jim Harbaugh is walking tall.
His team is coming off a rollicking 45-3 win over the Buffalo Bills, and it was the offensive showing that was most impressive. Alex Smith threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Frank Gore ran for 106 yards and Kendall Hunter added 81 more on the ground.
Couple that suddenly explosive offense with one of the hardest-hitting defenses in the NFL, and you have every reason for Harbaugh to be confident.
But he may be just a tad too cocky for his own good. Having the most explosive offense in mid-October and having a competent postseason offense are two different things. The Niners have apparently made great strides in the passing game — thanks in large part to ex-Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham — but they are still unproven in that area in games that matter.
As far as matching up with the Giants goes, the Niners still have to take a backseat.
Here’s two good reasons: The Giants are better at the quarterback position and at the head coaching slot.
That may not come into play this week because the Niners are playing for revenge, but don’t think for a second that what happens in Week 6 will matter even a lick if these teams meet in the postseason.
Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning don’t have anything to prove in the regular season. They have to survive a very difficult run, but it’s not about anything other than that. The Niners may be all about showing the Giants who is boss on Sunday, but Coughlin never lets these kind of “big” games matter.
Last year the Giants lost to the powerful Green Bay Packers at home in the regular season and then whipped Green Bay on the road in the playoffs.
When the Patriots were 18-0-0 heading into Super Bowl XLII, few thought that the Giants had a reasonable chance at beating them. After all, the Patriots had beaten the Giants during the regular season, and they didn’t appear to have the weapons to match up with them.
But the Giants played the game virtually even for three quarters, and then outplayed the Patriots in the fourth quarter and won the Super Bowl.
The Giants are far too mature a team to let the outcome of a regular-season game impact their long-term prospects during a season.
So the 49ers can make this game out to be a revenge game or whatever they want, but the Giants will remain focused on the big picture.
Smith is a good quarterback, but is he really an MVP candidate? His name is at the top of the NFL’s passer-rating list, but there is little reason to believe that he will remain there by the end of the season.
Smith is athletic and he is a good short- and medium-range passer. But he is not an upper-echelon deep passer, and there are serious questions as to whether he could play his best game when all the money is on the table.
There are no questions about Manning’s ability to do either of those things. He throws a great deep ball and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter of the biggest games.
Coughlin prepares his team as well as any coach for the key games. He’s got two Super Bowl rings to prove it.
Harbaugh looks like a good NFL coach. However, he’s a demanding and tough boss who often gets under the skin of his players. That means the longer he stays with the 49ers, the more difficult his relationships may get with his players.
He may overcome that friction, but he will take a backseat to Coughlin until he proves he can win a Super Bowl.
That’s not going to happen on Sunday, and it’s probably not going to happen this year.
Do you see the Giants pulling this one out on Sunday? Offer your predictions and thoughts in the comments section below…