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Sunday, January 22, 2012
How you feeling? Giants-49ers

By Dan Graziano


SAN FRANCISCO -- Yes, it is raining here this morning, but it's nothing too heavy, and the forecast is calling for occasional showers throughout the day. The NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers might be played in the rain at Candlestick Park, but it shouldn't be anything that affects the game too terribly much.

Stumbled on a couple of neat morning links for you. This one's from Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com, who spent some time talking to members of Antrel Rolle's family about why Rolle is so outspoken. And Sam Farmer from the L.A. Times has a cute story about Donald Toomer, father of former Giants receiver Amani Toomer, who will be operating the play clock for the NFL for today's game.

I will be heading over to Candlestick in a few hours to watch the AFC game while we await the 6:30 p.m. ET start of the NFC game. NFC West blogger Mike Sando will be there as well, along with Ashley Fox and the whole ESPN New York crew. Meantime, per our Sunday tradition, here's one reason for Giants fans to be feeling good about today's game and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: The Giants' defense won't have to cover as many scary receiving threats as it's had to worry about over the past few weeks in elimination games against the Packers, Falcons and Cowboys. San Francisco's offense is more basic, leans harder on the run game and doesn't offer its quarterback as many sensational downfield options as those teams offer theirs. The Giants will have to cover big tight end Vernon Davis, who had a huge game last week against the Saints, and watch out for top wideout Michael Crabtree. But if they can cover up those two, they should be able to devote the rest of their energy to getting after quarterback Alex Smith, which is the Giants' bread-and-butter on defense.

Cause for concern: San Francisco's defense is much more punishing than those against which the Giants have been playing in this current stretch. They are the best in the league at stopping the run. They forced 38 turnovers in the regular season and five more last week in their playoff game. They're aggressive and opportunistic and fast, and all of that forces opposing teams into mistakes. Eli Manning has been much more responsible with the ball this year than in past years, but he still forces (and completes) a lot of very tough and dangerous throws. If Manning is thrown off by the speed and relentlessness of the 49ers' defensive front, and if his line can't get him enough time to throw the ball, he could find himself forced into a mistake or two the likes of which he hasn't been making. And in a game like this, it might only take one or two mistakes to make a difference.