Before I get into the NFC Championship Game featuring the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, I'd like to give a review of my thoughts on this past weekend's NFC Divisional Round Games between the New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers.
Coming off a 37-20 victory against the Packers in Green Bay, the Giants become the first team in the 2012 NFL Playoffs to win a game away from home. There are a few things that can be blamed for the Packers' loss:
- Jermichael Finley showed, once again, that he is a great talent who has butter fingers. After leading the league with 11 drops, he also had a crucial dropped pass that resulted in a field goal instead of a possible touchdown.
- After being able to get away with it during the regular season, the lack of a running game by Green Bay wound up catching up to them after Aaron Rodgers led the team in rushing attempts with 7 and rushing yards with 66. If your franchise quarterback, who isn't known for great running skills, runs more than your running back, you have problems. It will be interesting to see what the team does at running back this offseason. Ryan Grant, whose 4th quarter fumble resulted in a Giants score, is a free agent. I do not expect him to be retained. James Starks has talent, but I don't envision him as someone who can carry the ball 20+ times a game and be able to stay healthy.
- It will be debated whether or not the Packers were simply rusty, especially Rodgers who didn't play in the Week 17 game against the Lions. Maybe they looked past the Giants and already had their eyes set on the NFC Championship game.
On the Giants side, an interception was the only blemish on Eli Manning's day after going 21-for-33 passing with 330 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hakeem Nicks showed that he is still elite by not only putting up a game-high 7 receptions for 165 yards, but he was a human-highlight reel after hauling in a Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half.
So with the Giants' win, they now fly to the West Coast to face a very hot San Francisco 49ers team who may have pulled off the upset of the year by beating the New Orleans Saints in a game that was definitely a nail biter.
Alex Smith's transformation from the beginning of the 2011 season to Saturday's upset victory is remarkable. His 299 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, 1 that went for the game winning score to Vernon Davis, will be analyzed all week. But this shows that Jim Harbaugh is still one of the best when it comes to getting the most out of his quarterbacks.
I totally whiffed on what Davis was going to do in my Divisional Report last week. Not only did he catch the game winner, but he had a monster game with 7 receptions and a game-high 180 yards and 2 scores. Does Davis have another huge game in him going up against the Giants?
Turnovers killed any momentum the Saints had. Even though they only lost by a score of 36-32, the Saints looked worse than the stats would lead you to believe. Two interceptions by Drew Brees, a bevy of fumbles and the loss of Robert Meachem, Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore hurt.
- Drew Brees threw for a monster 458 yards and 4 touchdowns. Expect Brees to get hit with the franchise tag this offseason and continue to find himself in the top 5 amongst fantasy quarterbacks.
- Darren Sproles, while not doing much on the ground, broke a playoff record with 15 receptions on 19 targets 116 yards and a touchdown. He deserves RB2/RB3 consideration in PPR leagues next year.
- Marques Colston upped his free-agent value by hauling in 9 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. I'd like to see Colston stay with the Saints because we have seen so many receivers leave for another team only for them to flop. Remember kiddies: a lot of times it's the system, not the talent.
So if the team can bring back Colston, this offense should be one of the league leaders in scoring and yardage for the 2012 season. Think positive Saints fans.
So with both NFC Divisional games off the microscope, lets look at the NFC Championship Game between the Giants and 49ers.
The last time these two teams played was in Week 10 of the 2011 season, where the 49ers managed a 27-20 victory at home. Lets take a look at the individual stats for that game (Per NFL.com):
Even though I picked the Saints to beat the 49ers in my Wild Card analysis, I still figured there was a decent chance that the 49ers would have the edge because of it being a home game and on the West Coast.
This week, I am going to throw caution to the wind and say the 49ers will continue to pull off the upsets and declare them the winner in this week's game. Lets now take a look at the position-by-position matchup and see which side comes out on top:
Considering Alex Smith has really come on strong recently, the winner is going to be a bit harder to decide. I really like Manning, but the 49ers secondary has played better and better each week. Yes I know Brees put up monster stats, but sometimes stats alone don't always tell the whole story. Alex Smith has a good shot at putting up big numbers against a Giants secondary who have given up big plays in the past.
Winner: Alex Smith. I really get the feeling that Smith can put up similar stats that he had last week. And you can't forget Smith's willingness to run after he rushed once for 28 yards and a touchdown.
Both sides have strong backfields, but the Giants have better depth with the thunder-and-lightning combo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. It only took Frank Gore 13 carries to come within 11 yards of 100 (89), but the team did get Kendall Hunter more work with 6 carries and 23 yards of his own. James Starks and Ryan Grant combined for 14 carries for 76 yards, which I see Gore doing by himself. The 49ers Defense is still at the top of their game in terms of giving up running yards, so:
Winner: Frank Gore. A strong rushing defense against good running back depth will win every time. Just look at the first meeting.
This isn't even close. I know Davis had that huge game, but the Giants Defense currently ranks 5th amongst all playoff teams with 231.5 receiving yards given up per game and rank 1st with a mere 9.3 yard average per catch. The team is going to have to figure out a way to get Michael Crabtree more involved after he caught 4 catches for 25 yards, but one of those catches was for a score. For the Giants, they have 3 strong options in Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. Against the Packers, all 3 combined for 15 catches, 270 receiving yards and 3 scores.
Winner: Nicks/Cruz/Manningham. The 49ers won't be able to game plan for all 3.
I'm not even going to go in-depth with this one. Davis has more receptions, yards and scores than both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum combined throughout the playoffs.
Winner: Vernon Davis. While it would be a shock to see Davis come close to his Divisional Round numbers, he should still surpass anything the Giants' tight ends can muster up.
While the Giants do match up well with the 49ers and I think it will be a much better game than the AFC Championship, I just don't see the Giants pulling it off. Between flying out to the West Coast, playing an away game and coming off an emotional victory over Green Bay, I think the 49ers are going to shock the football world and go from a 6-10 laughing stock from 2010 to the NFC Champions by beating the Giants by a score of 24-20.