With your New York Giants facing the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game I caught up with David Fucillo, the tremendous editor of SB Nation's 49ers website, Niners Nation, for a chat this week. Rather than copy and paste the entire chat, I am going to give you the most relevant parts -- mostly what Fucillo had to say in response to various questions from me, or about various topics.
On what has changed with the 49ers since the Week 10 meeting between San Francisco and New York, won 27-20 by the 49ers.
Fucillo: Since week 10, the 49ers have released wide receiver Braylon Edwards. He was brought in to be a big deep threat and a knee injury ended most any chance of that. The 49ers wide receivers have been a bit limited at times due to injuries, leaving Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis as their most consistent receiving threats
Frank Gore was banged up in that game and left after the first half with a knee injury. He is still a bit banged up, but the bye week helped rest him up.
Ray McDonald was limited with a hamstring injury prior to week ten but ended up playing. In a bit of a coincidence, he injured his hamstring in Week 17 and while he will play, he is a bit limited as well
But the big difference for this team is just having more time to bring their units together. They have been implementing their offense on the fly thanks to the lockout and the time has helped improve the passing game to a certain extent.
On how 49ers fans feel about San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith.
Fucillo: 49ers fans have been on a roller coaster with Alex through the years and right now fans are pretty thrilled with him. He has had his moments this season, but this was on the biggest stage with significant pressure against arguably the best quarterback in the NFL
It will be interesting to see what kind of response a poor performance would get, but at Niners Nation most people went all in with Alex on that touchdown.
On the potential impact of the rainy weather that has descended upon the San Francisco area.
Fucillo: My initial thought on the weather was that it favors the 49ers ground it out style. If this became a battle in the trenches, my initial thought was that the 49ers rushing attack would be the difference.
However, upon further reflection, you could argue the passing game could benefit. I heard one suggestion that cornerbacks having to react in muddy conditions are at a disadvantage against wide receivers running forward. Additionally, there is the idea that it could slow down the pass rush to a certain extent. If that were the case, I could see the Giants.
I think the big question will be on punt returns. With bad conditions, there is a chance for returner fumbles and there is also the chance that a coverage player slips in the mud and opens up a lane.
On the status of 49ers return man, reserve wide receiver Ted Ginn.
He seems to be the most questionable of the 49ers injury concerns and I would be a bit surprised to see him play.
Kyle William will handle punt returns. He has been decent enough but has not had the game-breaking plays of Ginn, so that would seem to benefit the Giants.
His absence also leaves the 49ers a bit limited at wide receiver. They would have Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Brett Swain and Joe Hastings as their four receivers. Not exactly Cruz-Nicks-Manningham.
On the outcome of Sunday's game.
My prediction this week has been 23-20. While I think Eli Manning will get plenty of yards, I think the 49ers red zone defense is able to contain the Giants offense down close.
The 49ers showed an ability to win a shootout last week against the Saints, but that really isn't their style. Ideally the defense and special teams dominate and Alex Smith keeps his steady hand on the offense.
Be sure to stop by Niners Nation to see what Fucillo had to ask me, and what the 49ers and their fans are thinking as Sunday's game approaches.