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Game of the Week: Giants at 49ers
Coming off their Super Bowl conquest, the Green Bay Packers sit atop the NFC with an impeccable 8-0 record. While their unblemished mark is certainly notable, many pigskin pundits expected the Pack to be conference contenders in 2011.
Two teams that weren't anticipated to contend for postseason entry were the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. With the "Dream Team" in Philadelphia and a renewed sense of hope in Dallas, the G-Men were afterthoughts in the NFC East. Equally envisioned to irrelevancy were the Niners, as another year of Alex Smith and a lack of training camp for Jim Harbaugh to instill his principles did not foretell success for San Fran.
Yet entering the second half of the season, both the Giants and 49ers are fighting the reigning champs from Green Bay for NFC supremacy. The battle for the first-round byes will become a little clearer after this weekend when New York travels to the Bay Area to take on San Fran, with the matchup doubling as the WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
San Francisco's season got off to an inauspicious start, blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2 and giving the Niners a mark of 1-1. But since that late-game collapse, San Fran has wheeled off six straight wins, including impressive victories over playoff aspirants Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Detroit.
The NFL might find itself in the advent of an aerial attack age, but the 49ers offensive strategy has shunned this new philosophy, enduring under the doctrine of ground-and-pound. Led by Pro Bowler Frank Gore, the Niners are averaging 137.6 yards per contest, third-best in the conference. Although Gore is the catalyst of the ground game (782 yards, five touchdowns), rookie Kendall Hunter has provided a nice change of pace, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
We'd be remiss if failing to mention the contributions of the signal caller Smith when discussing the offense. The average yardage accrual (173.5 per game, 30th in the league) may be minimal, but the former No. 1 overall pick has been extremely efficient, tossing 10 touchdowns, hitting a career-high 64.1 percent of his targets and throwing just two picks.
Hitherto, the spur of San Fran's revival stems from the team's defensive dexterity. The 49ers are holding opposing offenses to a league-low 14.8 points per game. A robust front seven, highlighted by Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Justin Smith, is suffocating adversaries to a meager 70.8 yards per outing (lowest in the NFL), while the secondary has 10 interceptions to their credit.
The Giants fall somewhere on the other side of the defensive domination spectrum, as the club is ranked a pedestrian 17th against the pass and 25th versus the run. A rash of injuries has made the New York secondary depleted, and the front line hasn't been a model of good health by any means. However, Jason Pierre-Paul has kept the G-Men formidable, racking up 9.5 sacks in the first half.
Attributing New York's climb to the top of the division to their defense would be a misnomer. Hence, how are the Giants 6-2 with a so-so defensive unit? Eli Manning's improved play has some correlation with this sentiment. After throwing 25 interceptions in 2010, the "other Manning" has cut down on his turnovers significantly, tossing just six picks through eight contests during the current campaign. Even more enlightening is Eli accomplishing this feat despite the exodus of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, along with top receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham missing time due to injury. If Aaron Rodgers wasn't posting video game-like numbers every week, a case could be made for Eli as the league's MVP.
So who wins this clash of NFC titans? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com football simulation engine, the 49ers come out on top 53.4 percent of the time by an average score of 21-19. To check out the rest of this week's predictions, check below:
Please note: The Cardinals/Eagles, Raiders/Chargers, Patriots/Jets, Rams/Browns, Giants/49ers, Lions/Bears, Bills/Cowboys, Steelers/Bengals and Jaguars/Colts were resimulated on 11/10 to account for injuries and roster updates.
NFL Week 10
|@ Green Bay Packers||73.5||27||Simulate Game|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||65.9||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Kansas City Chiefs||63.4||22||Simulate Game|
|@ San Diego Chargers||59.5||24||Simulate Game|
|New England Patriots||40.1||19||Boxscore|
|@ New York Jets||59.9||23||Simulate Game|
|St. Louis Rams||43.1||16||Boxscore|
|@ Cleveland Browns||56.9||19||Simulate Game|
|@ Miami Dolphins||53.9||21||Simulate Game|
|New York Giants||46.6||19||Boxscore|
|@ San Francisco 49ers||53.4||21||Simulate Game|
|New Orleans Saints||47.5||24||Boxscore|
|@ Atlanta Falcons||52.5||25||Simulate Game|
|@ Chicago Bears||51.1||21||Simulate Game|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||49.5||21||Simulate Game|
|@ Carolina Panthers||49.0||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Cincinnati Bengals||33.7||18||Simulate Game|
|@ Indianapolis Colts||32.8||16||Simulate Game|
|@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||27.0||20||Simulate Game|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||14.8||11||Simulate Game|
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