It’s been a roller coaster ride for the 2011 New York Giants. The Giants started hot, winning six of their first eight games. Then the Giants went to San Francisco, dropped a close one to the Niners and lost four straight. Will this Sunday be deja vu all over again for the Giants? It depends which version of the Giants shows up–will it be the team that gave up 36 points at home to the Seattle Seahawks? Or the team that manhandled Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive weeks?

Will Eli Be Elite In SF?--AP Photo

When two teams face off in a re-match, one question must always be answered:

What has changed since the last match-up?

In the first match-up, SF running back Frank Gore was injured early on, carrying six times for no yards. Gore’s replacements, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon, ran eight times for 49 yards. (6.3 YPC). As we saw last week, quarterback Alex Smith is threat to run outside of the pocket. Against the Giants, Smith ran six times for 27 yards (4.4 YPC). While only tallying 14 carries without Gore, the Niners’ offensive line showed they can help move the ball, regardless of who’s carrying it. Now that Mr. Gore is healthy, he’ll make life a little bit easier for the Niner offensive line. 

A methodical ground game is vital for the Niners because they do not feature any true game breakers. Vernon Davis had a career day against the New Orleans, but his regular season stat line (792 yards, 6 TDs) suggests he is a solid, but not spectacular player. As an offense, the Niners averaged just three plays of 20+ yards per game. To put that in perspective, the Saints averaged nine 20+ yard plays per game. This team wants to control the clock and grind out drives. 

In contrast, the Giants haven’t been grinding their ways to victories. In their recent victories, the Giants have relied on big plays from their quarterback and wide receivers to extend leads. Those big plays were absent in their first meeting with the 49ers. That loss sent the team into a deadly tailspin that almost ended their season. They dropped games against a Vince Young-led Eagle team, a Rex Grossman-led Washington team before rallying to beat the Cowboys twice and the Jets.

Since the ‘new’ Giants showed up in Week 16 against the Jets, Eli Manning has thrown 10 TDs to 2 INTs. The Giants ground game went from averaging 3.6 YPC to 4.4 YPC. The Giant defense has given up five passing TDs to four INTs. This ‘new’ Giant team is playing at a Super Bowl level. But given their inconsistent play over the course of the season, there’s no guarantee that this new bunch will show on Sunday.

As a sports fan, re-matches don’t typically excite me. I wasn’t excited for the LSU-Alabama re-match. However, this re-match is a little bit different. Given the Giants drastic turn around, I can’t wait for 6:30 pm on Sunday.

When it comes to the Niners, we know what to expect. They will try to control the game on the ground and create turnovers with their defense. This offense will not turn the ball over and this defense will swarm and gang tackle ball carriers. The Niners are a hungry team that have completely bought into Jim Harbaugh’s coaching philsophy of physical football. Unlike the Giants, the Niners did not have a lengthy losing streak, struggle mightly against any opponent, or lay an egg in a big spot. We know this Niner team will come to play–and probably play well. 

With the Giants, will they be able to get up for a fifth consecutive week? Or will the team that completely shit themsevles against the Redskins (twice) roll into the Bay Area? The Giants have played four straight emotional, physical, must-win games. They’ll face their toughest (and most physical) battle in the NFC Championship. Can they carry over their energy from Green Bay and deliver for sixty more minutes? Recent success indicates that they’ll come ready to play, but their full-season body of work suggests otherwise. 

We know what to expect from the Niners. If the ‘New’ Giants show up on Sunday afternoon, they’ll be punching their tickets to Indianapolis.