1. Home sweet home. Getting the NFC title game at home is a dream scenario for the 49ers. Quarterback Alex Smith has been much, much better at home this season and never better than he was when it counted against New Orleans in the divisional round. His fourth-quarter Total QBR against the Saints was 99.7, the third-highest in a fourth quarter this season. The figure was 78.1 out of 100 for the entire game, continuing a season-long trend. Smith's regular-season QBR was 71.6 at home, up from 29.3 on the road. Smith played well during the 49ers' 27-20 victory over the Giants at Candlestick in Week 10. Frank Gore left the game with an injury, leaving Smith to carry more of the load. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown, one interception, two sacks, no fumbles and six rushes covering 27 yards. His confidence should be higher than ever.
2. Manning-Brady Super Bowl talk. Think the 49ers noticed their underdog status at home against the lower-seeded Saints? Yes, they did. They can also expect to hear others salivating over a potential Super Bowl rematch between the Giants and New England Patriots. A storyline pitting Tom Brady against Eli Manning will have great appeal outside the Bay Area. If only the 49ers would go quietly. Recent history could be on the 49ers' side. The last time an NFC West team reached a Super Bowl, Arizona unexpectedly got the NFC title game at home against an NFC East opponent. The Cardinals beat the Eagles to advance, heading off an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.
3. Big plays in focus. The 49ers' defense beat up the Saints for three-plus quarters, only to collapse late in the game as both teams suddenly found the end zone repeatedly. San Francisco gave up 12 pass plays of 40-plus yards during the regular season, tied for fifth-most in the league. The Saints managed none until hitting two for touchdowns in the final minutes Saturday. Manning completed passes for 36 and 32 yards against the 49ers in Week 10, but none longer. He barely overthrew a wide-open Mario Manningham for what would have been a long touchdown in the final six minutes. That is one area for the 49ers to watch against the Giants.