NFC Championship Game Prediction

 NFC Championship Game: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers   6:30 PM ET

So here we are at the NFC Championship Game, and instead of a Drew Brees/Aaron Rodgers shootout, we have another (unlikely) chapter to add to a storied rivalry between San Fran and New York.

These teams have met in the postseason on quite a few occasions – with many of the contests being defined by a single play or going down to the last second – and this is a game that will surely be one that both teams will remember for a long time.  In their latest meeting, San Francisco mounted a historic comeback and took down the Giants as New York botched a field goal snap as time was winding down in a 2002 Wild Card Game.  This series has had its fair share of classic moments in the past: The signature over the 49ers in 1985 when the Giants held Joe Montana and Roger Craig’s group to 3 points, as well as the ’91 New York team putting the kibosh on the Montana dynasty among many others.  Bottom line, these teams have some of the NFL’s most classic playoff matchups.

What I find interesting is how both teams are painted as heroes of the NFL, with both teams being led by stand-up coaches: In San Francisco’s case, Jim Harbaugh took over a team that was 6-10 the year before and leading them to The NFC Title Game in the following year.  Tom Coughlin is the guy that – once again – went from being on the hot seat to being the man that all of New York wants to stand behind.  These two coaches – more so than any others – have found ways to instill the belief in their team that it is in their destiny to win it all.  As wonderful as each of their stories are, there is only room for one in the Super bowl.

Alex Smith and the 49er’s offense played great last week against the Saints, opening up the pass early and letting Smith pick apart the weak New Orleans secondary.  Although Smith has put together the best year of his career, the red-hot Giants pass rush will give him problems.  If the defensive line keeps up the level of play that has defined their team’s recent victories, San Francisco could be forced to play catch-up early on.

When these teams met in the regular season in week 10, New York faltered on a 4th down attempt to tie the game as time was winding down and San Francisco pulled out the home victory.  Frisco did what few teams have been able to do this year, pressure Manning into making costly mistakes.  This is the area where the game’s outcome will be decided in my opinion.  The Giants should be able to limit the damage from Vernon Davis and the likes of the San Francisco offense, and it will be up to Eli to avoid turnovers and put points on the board.

As cliché as it sounds – Eli Manning’s responsibility will be to win his team this game.  He needs to put this team on his back – as he has all season – and find a way to beat a defensive unit that had stumped Big Blue earlier in the season.  This is a game that will help define both Manning’s and Smith’s careers, and one of the two will have to step up and be a playoff hero.  Manning will triumph where Smith fails.

Prediction – NYG: 27 SF: 14

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