They say defense wins championships so according to that adage, the 49ers and Ravens should advance to the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.
The rematch of the Harbaugh brothers. Two of the stoutest defensive units in the game. Sounds enticing, but not so fast.
When we look at the current versions of the Giants and Patriots, we recall the amazing climax to the 2007 season and see parallels to the two squads that battled it out in the Super Bowl, won by the underdog Giants 17-14.
That year, the Giants had to make the playoffs as a wild-card team and then win all its playoff games on the road, including a trip through Green Bay. The Patriots and their precisioned offense engineered by Tom Brady entered the Super Bowl undefeated after fending off New York 38-35 in the final week of the regular season and then disposing of the Jaguars and Chargers in successive weeks.
This year’s Giants had two fewer wins than in ’07 but as they got healthier down the stretch they began to peak on both sides on the ball. Last week they went on the road and sent the Packers packing once again with a potent passing game and a stifling defense that, combined with several Green Bay miscues, left little suspense in the end.
Meanwhile, the Patriot offense looked as mighty as ever as Brady sliced and diced the Denver defense early and often, tying a playoff record with six TD passes. As good as the New England offense was in ’07, it’s even better now.
Sunday the Giants draw the 49ers, who showed tremendous resilience in securing a last-minute 36-32 win over the favored Saints in which there were four lead changes in the final four minutes.
The 49er offense went toe-to-toe with the Saints, but the Giant defense as it is playing now is a much better unit than the one San Francisco saw last week. It will be harder for Alex Smith to replicate the success he enjoyed against the Saints, placing more pressure on the 49er defense to contain Eli Manning and his red-hot receiving corps of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.
Make no mistake: The 49er defense is capable of shutting down the Giants. If San Francisco wins it will be because they forced turnovers, the same formula that ultimately helped them get by the Saints.
We believe the Giants will continue to protect the ball the way they have since they started their late-season run, putting added emphasis on the 49ers to win the time of possession battle and establish a running game with Frank Gore to keep Smith out of harm’s way. It could be a tall order.
In the AFC, the Ravens have the defensive stars to make things tough on Brady. The Broncos failed to sack the quarterback last week, allowing him to survey the field and find open receivers all game long. That can’t happen to the Ravens because everyone in the New England offense is a legitimate threat; the magic of the Pats is there’s no one player that can be keyed on. And the presence of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez creates mismatches that can vex even the best of defensive units.
Baltimore’s weapon of mass destruction on offense is running back Ray Rice and he has posed problems for the Pats in the past. But unless Joe Flacco can be consistent with the passing game and find holes in the porous New England secondary, the Ravens will find themselves with their backs to the wall. Add to the mix the Ravens aren’t a great road team, and what you have is an uphill struggle.
Momentum is everything in the postseason. You ride the hot hand. In the NFL right now, Tom Brady and Eli Manning are the hot hands. So no matter how good the 49er and Raven defensive units are, The Big Mo appears to favor the Patriots and Giants.
FINAL SCORES: Patriots 34, Ravens 13; Giants 28, 49ers 20.