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Preview: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers

by Photo of Andrew Lontos

The Giants and 49ers renew their rivalry in a battle of first place teams on Sunday.

Preview: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers

In this article…

The Giants and 49ers have produced some great playoff moments during the last three decades.


What made this vastly underrated rivalry so compelling was the contrast in styles. Giants head coach Bill Parcells led a team that was built on a strong running game and a physical defense. 49ers head coach Bill Walsh ran a squad that appealed to the intellectual fan, one blessed with a diverse, imaginative offense and a savvy quarterback who turned out to be the best to ever play the position. In short, the Giants were meat and potatoes. The 49ers were wine and cheese.

In 1986 the two teams from different coasts met in the NFC Divisional Round, where the Giants blew out the 49ers 49-3. New York knocked out Joe Montana (it wouldn't be the last time) before the half and went on to cruise to the Super Bowl.

The two teams met again in the 1990 NFC Championship game. This one was a much closer affair, but Montana again couldn't finish the game.


San Francisco was seeking to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowls and was about to get its shot until halfback Roger Craig fumbled the ball with 2:36 to go.

Lawrence Taylor made the recovery, a turnover that set up Matt Bahr’s fifth -- and most important -- field goal, a 42-yarder at the final gun that put the Giants in Super Bowl XXV, where they defeated the Bills.

San Francisco got some payback in 1993. The two met in the 1993 NFC Divisional round and the 49ers crushed the Giants 44-3. The result brought Lawrence Taylor to tears, who retired after the game. It was the last game Taylor and quarterback Phil Simms would ever play.

In the most recent memorable matchup, the 49ers completed one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history. The Giants withstood a big, early touchdown from Terrell Owens and jumped out to a 24 point lead. Jeff Garcia brought San Francisco all the way back, scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. New York botched a field goal attempt as time expired in a controversial ending and the 49ers won 39-38.

Sunday's Matchup

Jim Harbaugh has brought winning back to the Bay area. The first-year head coach has San Francisco in first place in the NFC West. The 49ers are 7-1 for the first time since 1997 and will likely make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, when they beat the Giants and then lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Despite a quiet offseason and a plethora of injuries, the Giants are 6-2 and in first place as well. They're especially feeling good after a huge win against the Patriots last week.

Similar to the situation in the 80s and 90s, the two teams are playing very differently but are enjoying great success. Eli Manning has been the main reason the Giants are winning. Manning is sixth in the NFL with 297.1 yards per game and has the best fourth quarter QB Rating in the league. He's simply been an elite quarterback.

First overall pick Alex Smith has pretty much been a disaster during the first six years of his career. Now in his seventh season, he's finally quarterbacking a winner. He hasn't exactly lit the world on fire; he's 33rd in attempts per game with 25.8 (only Blaine Gabbert has less) and 31st in yards per game with 183.4. He does deserves credit for managing the game, which, yes is the ultimate backhanded compliment for a quarterback. Smith has only thrown two interceptions and lost two fumbles to go along with his ten touchdown passes.

What if the two quarterbacks switched teams?

Both teams have excellent running backs, but the edge has to go to San Francisco because of Ahmad Bradshaw's injury. Bradshaw, along with Hakeem Nicks and David Baas, missed last week's win against New England. Nicks and Baas practiced today, but Bradshaw did not and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Frank Gore is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and will be the focus for the Giants defense, who would much prefer to pin their ears back and rush the passer. But as we know, Alex Smith probably won't be dropping back too often. If he does, that's definitely a good sign for New York.

An interesting subplot to this one is the Hakeem Nicks and Michael Crabtree comparison. They were both first round picks in 2009 and Crabtree was supposed to be the best wide receiver in the draft. He wasn't the first wideout off the board (the Raiders shocked everyone by picking Darius Heyward-Bey seventh), but still went 10th to San Francisco. Nicks, on the other hand, fell to the Giants at 29. The draft was loaded at that position; Kenny Britt went 30th to Tennessee. Crabtree has been decent, but Nicks has proven himself elite. Before his season-ending injury, Britt was establishing himself as a top receiver as well. Will Crabtree have a chip on his shoulder Sunday? Let's just hope he makes it on time. 

New York and San Francisco both have something to prove Sunday. Neither has played a very difficult schedule to this point and this game could show which of these teams, if not both, are for real. 

Prediction: Giants 24, 49ers 20.

Trying to go to the game? Let CHARGED.fm get you the best seats to see these division leaders play!

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