NEW YORK GIANTS (3-2)
at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (4-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT
Line: San Francisco -6˝, Total: 46
The Giants look to retain their dominance over the 49ers when the two teams clash Sunday in San Francisco for a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game.
New York is 4-1 SU in the past five meetings in this series, and is 6-1 ATS in the past seven matchups. QB Eli Manning had relative success against the Niners’ elite defense in the past two meetings, throwing for 627 yards, 4 TD and 2 INT. Two fumbles by punt returner Kyle Williams were the difference in the Giants’ 20-17 overtime win in the NFC title game. This year, Big Blue's vaunted defensive line is struggling while the 49ers offense has taken a step forward. They’ve topped 30 points three times and went for a franchise-record 621 yards of offense in last week’s 45-3 win over Buffalo.
Who will win this NFC Championship rematch on Sunday? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL game throughout the 2012 season and playoffs.
Manning has been pretty strong all season, throwing for 1,579 yards (316 YPG), 10 TD and 5 INT. In last week's 41-27 win over Cleveland, he and Victor Cruz hooked up for five catches, 50 yards and three touchdowns. Cruz leads the NFC in targets (57), and a big reason why is the absence of fellow starting wideout Hakeem Nicks. Although he has missed three straight games with knee and foot injuries, Nicks has been practicing all week and could possibly suit up on Sunday. This is key for a Giants team that will likely take to the air more than to try to run the football on a San Francisco front seven that could be the league's best. However, New York won't completely abandon the run, especially after the performance Ahmad Bradshaw had against Cleveland when he rushed for 200 yards on 30 carries. New York's much-hyped defensive line has not been able to generate a consistent pass rush this year, tallying just eight sacks over five games. Only four other NFL teams have fewer sacks than New York. That has led to mediocre yardage rankings for the Giants defense, which places 22nd against the pass (261 YPG) and 16th against the run (111 YPG). Some of this lackluster play has been due to injuries, which still linger. CB Jayron Hosley (hamstring), S Kenny Phillips (knee), CB Corey Webster (hamstring) and LB Chase Blackburn (hip) are all listed as questionable or doubtful to play on Sunday.
Speaking of injuries, 49ers QB Alex Smith sprained the middle finger on his throwing hand last week, but he will start on Sunday. He is in the midst of a strong season, completing 69% of his throws for 1,087 yards (7.9 YPA), 8 TD and just 1 INT. Last week against Buffalo, he was nearly perfect, completing 18-of-24 passes for 303 yards, 3 TD and 0 INT. He also rushed for 49 yards. Speaking of rushing, San Francisco leads the NFL with 196 rushing YPG. In just the past two weeks, the Niners have rolled up an astonishing 556 yards on 82 carries (6.8 YPC). Frank Gore leads the club with 434 rushing yards and 4 TD, but backup Kendall Hunter has been great over the past two weeks especially, rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries (7.2 YPC). San Francisco's defense has been incredible in the past two weeks, allowing a total of three points and 349 total yards in wins over the Jets (34-0) and Bills (45-3). For the season, the Niners have forced 10 turnovers and rank among the league's top-7 in both rushing defense (181 rush YPG, 2nd in NFL) and passing defense (81 pass YPG, 7th in NFL).