Giants v 49ers preview

Predicting the outcome of football games, especially playoff games, is an exercise in pretending to know the inevitable. Ratings, tendencies, history. They are all considered. And then the hunch weighs in. Proceed.

At least as team defense statistics allow, San Francisco have the far superior defense. The difference is not seen so much with regard to defending the pass. The disparity with defending the rushing game, though, is large enough to note — 49ers rank 1st, Giants 19th. The stats say New York can’t run the ball anyway — they are 32nd in the league. Couple that with the fact that the Giants are 8-1 when rushing for over 100 yards this season but are only a frail 3-6 when they failed to reach that mark points to New York having to throw to win on Sunday. New Orleans tried that last week — gaining only 37 yards on 14 carries, while Drew Brees threw over 60 passes — and still lost.

San Francisco safety Donte Whitner weighed in on that this week when he said the following.

Once you know that they can’t run the football, that’s when you get some exotic blitzes or you can play a lot of coverage… We’ve been able to do that all year long — stop the run with seven guys in the box. And it’s really one of the keys to our success.

The Giants are statistically the 5th best passing offense. But if New York can’t run a lick against the leagues very best defense against the run, that lofty 5th rating may be flattering based on Whitner’s observation.

So what can the Giants do to perhaps enhance their already powerful aerial attack? Danny Tuccitto has something to say about that over at Football Outsiders. He notes that the Giants offense, from a personnel and formation standpoint, is fairly basic. About seven out of every ten offensive snaps are in the standard 1RB/3WR/1TE (38%) or 2RB/2WR/1TE (32%) sets, with the latter giving them the best success in throwing the ball.

Tuccitto notes that where the 49ers struggle on defending the pass is when the opponent uses four or more wide receivers (accomplished with running backs split wide), but New York uses a four-plus wide receiver set only six percent of the time. That translates to something like a 0RB/4WR/1TE or a 1RB/4WR/0TE. So, watch for how many times the Giants try offensive sets apart from their norms, especially loading the numbers of wideouts in situations which aren’t necessarily in passing situations.

And if the Giants offensive line can keep Eli Manning upright, the younger of the two Super Bowl champion brothers is just the right QB to find at least one of those four receivers for reception after reception.

But history says the Giants will go with what they normally do, and they have done that very well in the past few weeks. Which brings us to history.

New York is a hot football team right now. It was only a few weeks ago that it looked doubtful if the Giants would even make the playoffs. And the fan base at that time was ready to jettison head coach Tom Coughlin. On the other side, the 49ers have consistently won football games from the very get-go in 2011. So, it’s great of late versus steady eddie.

Mr. Hunch now makes his entrance. He needs to, because this is a very even matchup when all is read. But after all is said and done, the home field advantage is huge for San Francisco. The 49ers wouldn’t have stood much of a chance in my opinion if last week’s matchup had been held down in the Big Easy. And it’s back to The ‘Stick to decide who represents the NFC in Indianapolis, thanks in part to the Packers laying an egg last week. The weather won’t play a big factor (the heavy rains that pelted my house all of yesterday and last night have now passed on to leave only an occasional shower). But the fans, and the familiar comforts of home, coupled with the lack of a cross-country flight (that may aid the spread of the stomach flu throughout the Giants squad) will make the difference for San Francisco to make their sixth Super Bowl appearance.

49ers 27  Giants 17

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