Fans of the Baltimore Ravens are hoping that the NFC Championship Game between the host San Francisco 49ers and visiting New York Giants will be to see who will be the Ravens opponent in Super Bowl XLVI. The NFC game will be held right after the Ravens play at the New England Patriots and by the time the Niners-Giants game starts, the outcome of the Ravens-Patriots should no longer be in doubt.
The 49ers were the second seed in the NFC and defeated the New Orleans Saints last week in a game that saw the last few minutes turn the game from an average game into an instant classic. QB Alex Smith led his team back from the brink of defeat after Saints QB Drew Brees showed why he was one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. However, the Saints defense could not contain Smith and his star tight end, Vernon Davis (Maryland).
In the other Divisional Round playoff game, the Giants stunned the GreenBay Packers, playing solid defense to go along with their own version of the unstoppable offense. Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks was better than anything that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers could match, and New York played the type of defense that was needed to slow down he #1 seeded Packers.
Now New York will have to travel west to play a real tough Niners defense in what could be less than ideal (rain, wind) conditions. However, the Giants have been playing perhaps the most balanced football on both sides of the line than any of the four remaining teams in both conferences. Their front seven is as solid as any, and while their secondary is prone to being burned, their pass rush makes opposing QB's get rid of the ball before his receivers are far enough into their routes.
Meanwhile, Eli Manning is quietly have an amazing season and his group of wideouts are arguably as good as what the Packers and Saints can throw at you. At the same time,his two-headed running backs keep defense honest which aids in giving Manning time to set up and throw behind what has been a decent offensive line.
Then again, the Giants have only faced a defense as tough as San Francisco's once this season and lost to the 49ers 27-20. Ravens fans will appreciate a defense that looks a lot like what we have seen over the years and they have already proved that they can stop a top ranked offense. Their pass rush is relentless, their linebackers lay the wood and their secondary can blanket anyone.
Offensively, the 49ers have relied on RB Frank Gore to get them going but QB Alex Smith proved last week that he can carry his team on his arm and legs, throwing and running like an All Pro in last week's victory. Having a tight end (Vernon Davis) who runs like a wide receiver certainly helps, but the question will be can the offensive line protect Smith enough to allow him time to find the speedy and elusive Davis.
I've gone both ways in figuring out who will win this game as the home field advantage for San Francisco is huge and there is no reason that the saying, "defense wins championships" should not continue to be true. However, it also helps to have a very good offense and the New York Giants currently have the offense to go along with a defense that can win a championship. While I would love to see a rem-match of the Thanksgiving Night Football game that pitted the two Harbaugh head coaches, I am leaning to believe that our John will be there and not their Jim.