NFC championship: Who has edge, 49ers or Giants?

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52) breaks up a pass intended for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80), left and Aaron Rodgers (12) of the Green Bay Packers gets sacked by Jason Pierre-Paul (90) and Michael Boley (59) of the New York Giants.
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That road warrior mentality the New York Giants have embraced is paving their path nicely.

They will need it for one more game when they head to San Francisco next Sunday to play for the NFC championship.

Since making the playoffs as a wild card in 2007, Tom Coughlin's team has emphasized the need to be comfortable on the road. The Giants felt downright at home at Lambeau Field in the postseason for the second straight time, humbling the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers 37-20 Sunday.

Giants stomp Packers in NFL playoff shocker

Four years ago, they eliminated the Packers 23-20 in overtime on the Lambeau tundra.

"I think we're a dangerous team," Coughlin said. "I like where we are and how we're playing."

Why not? Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns for the second consecutive week, Hakeem Nicks caught two of his scoring throws — one a 37-yard desperation pass at the end of the first half — and the Giants (11-7) forced four turnovers from the usually precise Packers and had four sacks.

So it's on to San Francisco, where they lost 27-20 in November. But the Giants also lost to the Packers (15-2) during the regular season.

The 49ers (14-3) won a classic on Saturday, rallying to beat New Orleans 36-32 with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds remaining.

49ers hold down Saints 36-32's Ryan Wilson points out that the 49ers beat the Saints at their own game: they forced turnovers and then turned them into points.

"Embattled quarterback Alex Smith had to wait almost seven years, but he's finally playing like a first-round draft pick, and he out Drew Brees-ed Drew Brees during the final four minutes of Saturday's Divisional game," Wilson writes.

The 49ers now must lean heavily on their strong defense and hope that Smith can continue his mistake-free, inspired play at quarterback.

In their last meeting, 49ers All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith batted down Manning's pass in the closing seconds to preserve a win. That started New York on a downward spiral of four consecutive losses.

But the Giants have found a pass rush and a running game, Manning has maintained his sizzling pace in his best season, and they have gotten healthy. They've won five of six, including two playoff games.

"We went down there earlier this year and we didn't get it done, we fell short," receiver Mario Manningham said. "But I think we're going to go back and watch what we did wrong and just come back and do the right things."

According to Wilson, mistake-free football will be at a premium for the Giants in the NFC championship matchup.

"That means that offensive line has to protect Manning, he has to make great decisions, and everybody has to keep two hands on the football at all times," Wilson says, "because the 49ers' defense will swarm and strip, in that order."

San Francisco has done nearly everything right in a turnaround season under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. They are extremely efficient with perhaps the best tackling defense in the league led by four All-Pros — linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, cornerback Carlos Rogers and Smith — and ball-hawking skills that allowed them to lead the NFL with 38 takeaways.

Same thing on offense, with a league-low 10 turnovers.

"It's a lot better than traveling to Wisconsin. More importantly, we're playing a team we've already faced," Rogers said. "It's not as hard as preparing for another team we haven't faced yet."

The difference in pedigree for the quarterbacks is so large, though, that it could swing the edge to the Giants.

"Guys understand the way to win football games against good teams," Manning said. "Our defense is playing great with pressure and turnovers. Our offense for the most part is protecting the ball and playing smart football. When we have a chance to make a big play we are making them."