NFL Preview: New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers

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Earlier today I was a guest on ESPN Radio with Bobby Curran talking about the NFL Conference Championship games this weekend. We talked about the matchups position by position and discussed the themes I felt would have important roles in the outcome of the two games. Here’s a basic summary of how I see things transpiring.

There has been plenty about talk about Eli’s Manning’s throwing prowess and Alex Smith coming of age this week, but make no mistake about it, this game is going to be won on the defensive side of the ball. This game features a showcase of some of the best defensive lineman in the game. The Giants have three of them in Jason Pierre-Paul and a now healthy Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

The 49ers have Justin Smith who has actually been around for quite a while 11-years to be exact, who may be having the best year of them all. Smith doesn’t get a lot of national attention primarily because he didn’t have the gaudy 16.5 sacks that Pierre-Paul has (Smith has 7.5), but Smith takes up two blockers on nearly every play. That’s really his job, to tie up two blockers so that linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith can wreak havoc and he does it extremely well.

And on the few exceptions teams leave him one on one, he simply uses the offensive lineman as bowling pins for lack of a better description, bull rushing them, and pushing them back into the face of the quarterback. We got to see a perfect example of this in the 4th quarter New Orleans Saints game last week when with just under 11 minutes to play, on 3 and 17 from the Saints own 11-yard line, Smith simply pushes Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Busrod of his mark into Drew Brees’ face, then reached over Bushrod and tackled BOTH OF THEM. That was truly one of the more remarkable displays of pure power I’ve ever seen at this level of play. If, he’s not the strongest man in the NFL, I don’t know who is.

I expect the soggy turf to be an issue in this game. In talking with NFL Hall of Fame finalist Chris Doleman earlier in the week who played at Candlestick Park from ’96-’98, he felt that the home team had a huge advantage in knowing how to deal with it the ground conditions.

If the Giants win this game I think it will be because their front four forces Alex Smith into errors, but Smith is a lot more agile than people give him credit for. He looked pretty good running that QB sweep, didn’t he. If Smith can build on his playoff success from last week, play with confidence and keep his composure, either take the sack, throwing the ball away when warranted or escaping to make plays, I think San Francisco wins this one. The Giants don’t have a Jimmy Graham or Darren Sproles to do the things the Saints did to them. The Giants passing game is more traditional using their wideouts. While they are above average at running after the catch, I think the 49ers will be able to deal with that pretty effectively.

Best Guess = 24 17