The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, two of the most successful franchises of the Super Bowl era, meet in the NFC Championship Game today at Candlestick Park in San Francisco (6:30 p.m. ET/FOX) for the right to go to the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
The 49ers have been to the Super Bowl five times, winning all of them. San Francisco, however, has not been to the big game since 1994. The Giants have been to the Super Bowl four times, winning three. The most recent, of course, was their 17-14 victory over the then-unbeaten New England Patriots in 2008.
The Giants and 49ers have met seven times in the playoffs, with San Francisco holding a 4-3 edge. In four playoff meetings at Candlestick Park, the Giants are just 1-3. The Giants won the only NFC Championship Game meeting between the teams, beating the 49ers, 15-13, at Candlestick in 1991.
These two teams have similarly successful histories, and their paths have obviously crossed numerous times in epic playoff matchups. The versions of the teams that meet today at Candlestick, though, are also vastly different.
The NFC East champion Giants (11-7) are coached by Tom Coughlin, the league's oldest coach at 65 and one who is moving up the charts as one of the winningest coaches in NFL history. In 16 seasons, Coughlin has compiled 152 career victories. The NFC West champion 49ers are led by rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback who took over an under-achieving team and has quickly restored the 414-3 9ers to their place among the league's elite teams.
The Giants have an explosive big-play offense led by quarterback Eli Manning, who set a franchise record this season by passing for 4,933 yards. They have electifying wide receivers in Victor Cruz (a franchise record 1,536 yards receiving this season) and Hakeem Nicks (1,192 yards). They were uncharacteristically poor running the ball, last in the league at 89.2 yards per game.
The 49ers are a run-oriented team built around controlling the clock by handing the ball to Frank Gore (1,211 yards) and by keeping turnovers to a minimum. Quarterback Alex Smith threw just five interceptions in 445 pass attempts this season.
Defensively, the 49ers have been one of the best teams in the league all season. San Francisco surrendered only 14.3 points per game, second in the league to Pittsburgh.
The Giants struggled much of the season defensively and allowed 25 points per game. The defense has been dominant in recent weeks, however. The Giants defense did not allow any points in a 20-2 wild-card round victory over the Atlanta Falcons, and held the Green Bay Packers to 20 points in the divisional round.
The weather in San Francisco could be a significant factor. It has been raining quite a bit the past few days, and more wet weather is almost certain for today. The 49ers are three-point favorites this afternoon.