Before last weekend, a majority of football-watching Americans would only put the words “Alex Smith,” “fourth-quarter,” and “comeback” in the same sentence with the word “failed.” Smith has routinely faced incredibly high expectations for a number of reasons: any quarterback for the 49ers will be compared to both Joe Montana and Steve Young; he was drafted number one overall; his draft counterpart, Berkeley alum Aaron Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and regularly put up stat lines that border on the absurd.
But last Sunday, it was Rodgers who failed to lead his team back against the New York Giants, while Smith rallied the 49ers, connecting on a 14-yard pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds remaining to secure San Francisco a spot in this weekends NFC Championship, in which they will host the Giants at Candlestick on Sunday afternoon.
Both defenses face a tall order: Do as well as you did last Sunday. The 49ers defense forced the Saints to commit five turnovers, the most they had all season. The Giants defense, meanwhile pummeled the heavily-favored Green Bay Packers into fumbling three times; coming into the game, the Packers had fumbled only three times in the previous 16 games combined. New York also boasts an excellent pass-rush and a secondary that held Rodgers, the presumptive MVP, to a passer rating of 78.5, his lowest of the season. That shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the 49ers, who would prefer to run the ball with Frank Gore anyway.
Look for San Francisco to pound the ball, control the clock, and rely on their Pro Bowl kicking tandem of Andy Lee and David Akers to produce a low-scoring affair that keeps the ball away from Manning.
PREDICTION: 49ers over the Giants, 16-13