The hype about this weekend’s clash of NFC heavyweights threatens to go into overdrive the closer we get to Sunday night’s 6:30 kickoff in San Francisco.
So let me get right to it. I expect the Giants to win a close game on Sunday, one that is not nearly as high scoring as either of last week’s NFC divisional-round matchups.
Why? There’s a lot to sort through first:
One analyst will explain why the Giants’ front four and Eli Manning’s passing attack will lead them to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, on another channel, someone else’s expert will show you how the 49ers’ defense will wrap up New York’s receivers and point out that Frank Gore’s style of running will punch holes in the Giants’ line.
They’ll play the coaches’ tape for us and run highlight markers all over the screen. See? When X does this, Y will do this. Therefore, Z is the way it’s going to go down on Sunday. No doubt about it.
Then you have the beat writers, bloggers and columnists, many of whom will crunch all the numbers and devise their own formula in picking a winner. If the numbers support it, it must be true.
But my favorites are the sports axioms. An axiom is a statement that has been accepted as true and is self-evident.
An example: In the playoffs, a terrific defense always trumps a terrific offense. And … Go with the better team over the course of the regular season.
Put two checks on San Francisco’s side of the ledger.
Or: In the postseason, experience is the true difference maker. And … Always go with the hottest team.
That’s two checks for New York.
The trouble is, axioms are a lot like statistics. You can twist them to fit nearly any argument.
Until you get to the big two, as I refer to them.
1. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
2. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – also known as the dodging-a-bullet syndrome.
The 49ers are lined up in the latter’s camp. They survived the closest of calls in last week’s 36-32 classic come-from-behind victory over New Orleans.
But when the Giants knocked off the top-seeded Packers last week, the 49ers violated the “wish” axiom.
Sure, Vernon Davis and his teammates were rooting for the Giants so they could host the NFC championship game themselves this week. We know that it wasn’t meant as an insult to the Giants.
It doesn’t matter. They violated the “wish” axiom anyway. On Sunday, they just may find that the Giants have a bullet of their own with the 49ers’ name on it. And this one may be impossible to dodge.
I’m sticking with the Giants until further notice, and sports axioms have nothing to do with it. Statistics neither. It’s all about health and timing. The Giants got healthy at the right time. They put themselves in position to make the playoffs while they healed; now they’re the better all-around team.
Like Drew Brees before him, Eli Manning will put up points on San Francisco. But in the end, when Alex Smith tries to answer, he will find a much more formidable opponent than the New Orleans defense he torched in the final four minutes of last week’s game.
It adds up to a Giants victory and a trip to Indianapolis next month, sports axioms and statistics be damned.