When the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens played earlier this season, the game was dubbed the "Harbaugh Bowl." Following the NFC and AFC Championship games this Sunday, that game will become known as "Harbaugh Bowl I." Here's why:
The New York Giants secondary
Although it's looked great over the past couple of weeks, the Giants secondary has been weak for most of the season. That said, the team's relentless defensive line prevented Tony Romo, Matt Ryann and Aaron Rodgers from exploiting it. The 49ers have a good offensive line. More importantly, however, the team has balance. Jason Pierre Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Tuck won't be able to tee off on the quarterback as they have in the past three games; instead, they'll be forced to slow down their rush to deal with Frank Gore.
Giant offensive limitations
Listen to the talking heads on ESPN, and you'll get the sense that the Giants are an unstoppable force. Let's be honest; this is the same team that lost seven games this season, including two to the lowly Washington Redskins. Although Eli Manning has been red hot over the past several games, he's saddled with an offense that finished dead last in the NFL when it comes to running the football.
That didn't matter against the Cowboys, Falcons and Packers, which all feature lackluster defenses that had trouble stopping anyone in the 2011 season. The San Francisco 49ers have one of the best - if not the best - front sevens in the league. They don't need to commit safeties to stop the run, and they don't have to send an extra defender on a blitz to pressure the quarterback. This allows them to commit more defenders to cover guys like Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz.
Although Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints found success passing the ball against San Francisco; this had more to do with the 49ers having to commit extra attention to Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham. The New York Giants do not have this type of athleticism at the tight end or running back position, although Ahmad Bradshaw does have similar quickness and could be the key to any potential Giant success.
Ultimately, San Francisco will be able to commit enough defensive personnel to stop New York's explosive passing attack; and the 49ers balance on offense should slow the Giants' pass rush enough to allow Alex Smith to get the ball out of his hands.
Prediction: San Francisco 24, Giants 17
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