The 2012 NFL Playoffs kick off this weekend with the wild card round presenting a variety of intriguing matchups. There are plenty of story lines to keep us all interested, but the most important part of the weekend is getting an opponent for the divisional championship round the following weekend.
If the New Orleans Saints win, they will travel to San Francisco. If the Saints lose on Saturday, the 49ers will face the winner of the Atlanta Falcons-New York Giants contest on Sunday. The NFL does not technically re-seed, but the highest remaining seed faces the two seed, so the Lions will not be coming to San Francisco in the second round.
On Wednesday, Dylan put together a quick look at the three potential 49ers opponents. The New Orleans Saints are the odds-on favorite to advance and Coach Harbaugh admitted in a radio interview that more of the 49ers preparations this week are with the Saints in mind, simply because of the percentages. However, much like the 49ers are still involved in some Giants and Falcons preparation, I thought I'd take a stab at breaking down all three possible 49ers opponents. Yesterday we took a look at the Atlanta Falcons. Today we move on to the New York Giants.
The New York Giants finished up a 9-7 season with a season-closing and playoff-clinching victory over the Dallas Cowboys. They host the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday and currently sit as three point favorites. For some reason my gut is telling me to pick the Falcons, but in assessing the two teams, the Giants have many of the advantages in this game. That isn't stopping me from picking the Falcons to win, but if the better team wins it will be the Giants.
The Giants are the one team the 49ers did face during the regular season. It was a tense back-and-forth affair that came down to the wire when Justin Smith batted down an Eli Manning pass at the 49ers ten yard line. The teams exchanged field goals in the first half with the 49ers heading into halftime up 9-6. The Giants grabbed a 13-12 lead in the third quarter but the 49ers responded with a pair of touchdowns to take a 27-13 lead.
The Giants cut the lead to seven with a 32-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks and forced a subsequent three and out by the 49ers. The Giants started at their own 20 with 6:35 to go and immediately went to work pushing down the field. They converted a pair of fourth downs during which Eli Manning just missed the outstretched hands of Mario Manningham in the end zone. The Giant got down to the 49ers ten but Justin Smith made another game-saving play to secure the victory.
The Giants enter the playoffs as one of only two teams with a negative point differential (the Broncos are team number two). The Giants scored 394 points and gave up 400 points, for a differential of -6. While their record is slightly above what that differential should provide, but it's close enough that it is not a huge deal.
The Giants have gotten to this point thanks primarily to their offense. The defense isn't Patriots bad, but it's not particularly good. The 49ers went right after the Giants pass defense in their regular season contest. There had been a lot of talk about how the Giants defense did not really fear Alex Smith. The 49ers took them to task for that by boosting the passing attack. He came out chucking and really held up well. I think Frank Gore and Greg Roman both made mention after the game about how surprised they were by how far the Giants went in trying to force Smith to beat them, as opposed to a more balanced approach.
The Giants offense remains fearsome due to Eli Manning and his band of receivers. The rushing game isn't awful, but it's really not all that good. Football Outsiders rates their rushing attack 20th and their passing attack 4th. Whether you are a fan of FO or not, that should still tell you something about the differences in their style.
It really is all about Eli Manning to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Mario Manningham can cause trouble (as he did against the 49ers), but the consistent threats are Cruz and Nicks. Cruz had six catches for 84 yards and probably should have had a lot more if not for a couple bad drops. Even though the 49ers can likely handle the Giants rushing attack, the Giants will be looking to go up top anyway. The 49ers can work to contain it, but it will be a pressing threat all day long.
As I've said before, I think the Saints win on Saturday. That would make this post irrelevant barring a Giants subsequent upset of the Packers. Nonetheless, the Giants are a very intriguing team to watch. I don't really know why I think the Falcons will beat them. Neither team has a good passing defense and I think the Giants have some bigger weapons. But, I guess we'll see on Sunday.