Newyorkjets.com is profiling each NFL playoff game this postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Here is Sunday's NFC Championship Game:
(4) NEW YORK GIANTS (11-7) at (2) SAN FRANCISCO (14-3), 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Raise your hand if any of you truthfully predicted this would be the NFC Championship when the season began … Anyone?
Didn't think so. Before the season, the Niners hired rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, who had no contact with his players in the offseason due to the lockout. He, in turn, brought in a new coaching staff, installed a new offense ... and then proceeded to go 13-3, running away with the NFC West crown.
The Giants survived an early-season bout with the injury bug and stood at 7-7 and out of the playoff picture with two games remaining in the regular season. With last week's stunning 37-20 victory over the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau Field, they are in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in five years.
With last week's victory, Coughlin earned his sixth career road postseason victory, one behind Tom Landry's record. QB Eli Manning has won four playoff games on the road and needs one more to reach the second Super Bowl of his career.
Early weather forecasts are calling for a deluge to sweep through San Francisco late this week and into early next week. The NFL stipulates that the field must be covered with a tarp should there be foul weather, a rule enacted after the 1982 AFC Championship "Mud Bowl" between the Jets and Dolphins in Miami. Still, the amount of rain anticipated would provide for a sloppy track on Sunday afternoon.
East Coast vs. West Coast. Old-school coach vs. rookie. Offense vs. defense. Call it what you want, but Giants DT Chris Canty has a good feeling about what to expect Sunday.
"This is not going to be a cute football game," said Canty. "It's not going to be for the meek and mild. This is going to be a bloodbath, that's what it's going to be."
Both franchises are veterans of championship games with the Giants about to play in their record 18th NFL/NFC championship game while the Niners will be playing in their 13th. Similar to this year's AFC Championship, the game features a top-notch offense facing off against one of the best defenses in the league. The Giants finished the season with the No. 8 total offense, and the Niners boast the league's fourth-best overall defense.
The cornerstone of the San Francisco "D" is its elite run-stopping ability. The 49ers were the league's best rush defense, allowing 1,236 yards on the ground. Along with the Ravens, the two teams were best in the NFL with a mere 3.5 yards allowed per carry. The numbers do not bode well for the Giants, who finished dead last in rushing.
While the Giants struggled all season to move the ball on the ground, they were among the league's best through the air. Manning is coming off a career regular season, throwing for 4,933 yards and eight 300-yard games, both franchise records. He also set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter TD passes, passing Colts greats Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. Eli has also proven to be a successful postseason passer. In nine career playoff games, he's thrown for 1,904 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The benefactors of Manning's passing prowess this season include WRs Hakeem Nicks (1,192 yards) and Victor Cruz (1,536). The two became the first Giants tandem to record over 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Cruz set franchise season records for receiving yards and most 100-yard receiving games (7).
On the other side of the ball, the Big Blue defense has turned around a disappointing regular season in the playoffs. The defense allowed no points in the 24-2 NFC Wild Card victory over Atlanta and held the high-flying Packers to 20 points at home where they had averaged 40 points per game this season. DE Jason Pierre-Paul recorded 16.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign, fourth-most in the league. Fellow DE Osi Umenyiora has 22.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles in his last 24 games, including playoffs.
The Giants defense will be tasked with stopping the suddenly prodigious San Francisco offense. The Niners have scored 34 and 36 points in their last two games. QB Alex Smith, the once underachieving top pick of the 2005 draft, has undergone a complete transformation, turning in the best season of his career — 61.3 percent accuracy, 3,144 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and only five picks.
There is no love lost between these two highly decorated franchises. San Francisco barely holds the better record in the all-time series at 18-17, including playoffs. The Niners have won seven of the last 10 meetings, including a 27-20 Week 10 victory. The teams' most recent playoff matchup was in the 2002 NFC Wild Card Round, when the 49ers came back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to win, 39-38.
This will be the eighth postseason meeting between the teams, with San Francisco leading the series, 4-3. At home in the postseason, the Niners are 4-1 against the Giants, with the lone loss coming in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. The Giants' 15-13 victory disrupted the Niners quest to become the first three-peat champs in league history and led to Big Blue's second Super Bowl championship.
In the Week 10 matchup this season, the teams played a crisp, physical game. Smith threw for 242 yards, one TD and one INT. Manning threw for 311 yards, two TDs and two INTs in the loss.
Giants OT Kareem McKenzie (Willingboro, N.J.) was the Jets' third-round draft choice in 2001 and played four years for the Green & White. RB D.J. Ware was a member of the Jets practice squad in '07 and now sees limited action with Big Blue. The Giants sideline has plenty of Jets influences, including LB coach Jim Herrmann, secondary coaches Peter Giunta and David Merritt, assistant strength coach Markus Paul, and former Jets LB Larry Izzo, an assistant special teams coach.
The Niners have two ex-Jets contributing to their cause. Jonathan Goodwin, a Jets fifth-rounder in 2002 and member of the Green & White from '02-05 is now the 49ers' starting center. Also on the SF roster: Blake Costanzo (Franklin Lakes, N.J.), their second-leading ST tackler, who was in Jets camp in '06 and '07.
On Harbaugh's staff are secondary coach Ed Donatell, the Jets' DBs coach from 1990-94 and a special assistant in '07, and special teams coordinator Brad Seely, who held the same title with the Green & White in 1994.
Also, wide receivers coach John Morton was the WRs coach at USC in 2007-08 before being named the school's offensive coordinator. Morton was on the coaching staff at the same time Jets QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner and RB Joe McKnight were Trojans.
Among the New York area locals playing in this game are Giants DTs Canty (Bronx, N.Y.) and Jimmy Kennedy (Yonkers, N.Y.), WR Victor Cruz (Paterson, N.J.), and OL Chris Snee (Edison, N.J.), and 49ers T Anthony Davis (Piscataway and Rutgers) and CB Tarell Brown (New York City).