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Sunday night NFL action

From my former colleague and gun NFL analyst, Andy Richmond, @bickley14, an in=depth preview of tonight's big TV clash. I've always been a 49ers fan thanks to the international coverage in the 80s in the Montana/Rice era. Trip to Wembley next year to see them again is locked in already. Visit NFL Insight to learn more about live trading on NFL, there aren't many sports better suited to live betting than American football.

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New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers NFL Preview

On this occasion there is not as much on the line as when these two last met – that time a place at the Super Bowl table was on the line and it was the 49ers who made the crucial errors and failed to move the ball as they went down 20-17 in OT, the rest of the Giants season is of course now history.

That New York win was based on a stifling defence which characterised most of their Super Bowl run last season, this season they have been far more profligate and they’ll need to tighten up here against a 49ers side that if anything has improved this season. There is just one blip on in the San Francisco dance card this year a stumbling and two left-footed effort versus Minnesota but my o my how have they bounced back on both sides of the ball, the D conceding just three points in the subsequent two games and even more impressive in their own way have been their offensive endeavours. They put 34 points on the Jets and then dispatched the Bills with amazing ease recording these numbers 45points, 621 total yards and 29 first downs, those 600 plus yards were composed of 310 yards through the air and 311 on the ground – that being the first time that an NFL side has recorded 300 plus yards in each category in the same game.

The Giants haven’t put up anything like those numbers this year but we already know that it’s folly to write them off in any situation and although they have lost their two games against better sides this year (Philadelphia and Dallas) they are still a side that can create problems for any opposition. Kyle Williams certainly knows about all the problems that the Giants can create after he muffed two punt returns in that NFC Championship game one in the fourth quarter leading to a touchdown and another in OT setting up the Giants’ winning field goal.

On offence it looks as though the 49ers have upgraded their personnel and in QB Alex Smith they have the signal-caller with the league’s best passer rating (108.7) – the receiving corps, with a boost from offseason additions Randy Moss and former Giant Mario Manningham, is averaging 11.8 catches.

It was probably the stifling defence that proved to be the key the Giants success last year but it’s their offence this year that has really sparked into life ranking second in both total yards with an average of 429.2 and scoring with 30.4 points per game. They’ve amassed 1,877 yards in the last four weeks – their most over a four-game stretch in franchise history. If there are any problems with the Giants then it’s on the defensive side of the ball last season they did a good job in putting the shackles on some very explosive offences this year they are yielding 22.2 points per game and they are allowing a lot bigger plays with 24 plays of at least 20 yards resulting.

New York’s offence, although firing on all cylinders over the last few weeks, also seems like it will have its hands full against a San Francisco team that is allowing a league-low 13.6 points per game. Eli Manning although ultimately victorious against San Francisco last year was giving a tortuous time last year by the 49ers defence who sacked him on six occasions and hit and hurried him on six other pass attempts. New York have down a much better job of protecting Manning this year, he’s been sacked just 5 times and like all elite QB’s if you give him time he’ll pick apart any defence. Manning is on pace for a very good season he already has 1,579 yards and 10 TD’s and he’ll be hoping that his other go-to receiver Hakeem Nicks is ready to return and play in tandem with Victor Cruz – Hicks has practiced this week on a limited basis but he missed the last three games, there is a chance he could play on Sunday, but Nicks is wary of aggravating the injuries and missing more time. As a group and if they are all healthy the Giants receivers will cause the 49ers secondary problems and if there is any group on the San Francisco team that do have some problems it could well be their secondary – starting cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers have combined to allow 450 yards, while the two starting safeties have been adequate, I do have doubts about Donte Whitner who Manning will look to target he’s missed eight tackles this season and doesn’t look as good as he was last season. A good deal of balance is given to the Giants offence by their ground game which sprang to life last weekend via Ahmad Bradshaw who went for 200 yards last weekend but that was only against Cleveland and he’ll find life much tougher here as San Francisco have only allowed one 100-yard rusher in their last 43 games – Marshawn Lynch of Seattle.

One aspect of the Giants game has been very disappointing this year and that’s their pass rush – it was fierce last season and their sack productivity is way down this year with just eight sacks. The D-line certainly has the potential to be great, they will need to step it up and get to the passer in this contest as Alex Smith will find his receivers if allowed. The Giants have just three sacks when rushing four or fewer defenders this season, with Jason Pierre-Paul accounting for just one of the three. Last season, the Giants recorded the second-most sacks with such pressure (34), with Jason Pierre-Paul picking up 11.5 sacks.

Smith is often thought of more as a “game manager” rather than a QB who will win you the game but he was more punishing against the Bills and his rating of 156.3 speaks for itself, and he’ll be looking for his favourite targets Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Smith is 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) when targeting Vernon Davis more than 10 yards downfield this season. Since the start of the 2011 playoffs, Smith has thrown just as many touchdowns as incompletions (5) when targeting Davis on such throws. Smith went 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) to Davis on throws more than 10 yards downfield last regular season.

Ball security is something that we have focussed upon this year in the majority of games that we have taken a look at and it becomes a more and more important part of the game. Both sides are good at forcing the opposition to turn the ball over and their respective QB’s also have a very good record when it comes to not throwing the ball away to the opposing team. Smith has just one interception this year while Manning has four that higher number is due to his predilection to take more shots downfield and force the ball into tighter windows – that carries risk but also a greater reward ratio. Possessions and field position are going to be huge, and a turnover could provide the difference.

Given the part that special teams played in the last contest between these two teams it would be folly not to expect them to come under some scrutiny again. The 49ers have some real speed on returns via Ted Ginn on punts and Kyle Williams (yes him again) on kickoff returns, while the Giants have excellent coverage teams. Points and field position are likely to be hard fought in this game and any short-field opportunities will have to be taken and capitalised on.

The 49ers probably carry the greater collective threat and can spread the load whereas the Giants will need a big game from Manning and if he can keep this game close into the 4th quarter there are few QB’s in the league who are better at putting the game to bed. Although Manning can drive this team to a win, he also can put the Giants in a hole that can be difficult to escape but he does appear to be feeling pressure much better this year and this year he does seem to be getting the ball out of his hands far quicker and be more willing to throw the ball away and take an incomplete than to hold on to it too long and get sacked. The 49ers were able to sack Eli Manning seven times last season, with six coming on a five-plus man pass rush. However, when Manning wasn’t sacked facing such pressure, he went 16-of-21 passing for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

The betting on this game suggests that there is plenty between these two teams but is that the case? I certainly don’t think so and while the stock of the 49ers continues to rise has the Giants fallen that much, sure they have to cross the country and play the team that is arguably the best in the NFL but they have more of a chance than the odds suggest and they may well push the 49ers close in a game of thin margins that turnovers, ball security, field position and the sheer will to win will decide and we may well be all back here in January for a post-season contest.

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