By Paul Dottino
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Nearly a month ago, it appeared the Giants and San Francisco 49ers could be playing an important game at MetLife Stadium.
As it turned out, Sunday's game is important to each team for a different reason. The Giants (3-6) have lost four in a row and badly need a victory to stop their season from totally spinning out of control. The Niners (5-4) are in need of a win to remain in the NFC playoff race.
And don't think for a minute that San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't enjoy piling on against the Giants -- a team that's elminated the 49ers from the playoffs twice at Candlestick Park over the past seven seasons. The question is if he will get that chance.
Here are three key matchups to watch in the game:
1. Giants front seven vs. 49ers backfield. If you didn't watch it live, you've either heard about it or seen the highlights of how Seattle read-option QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch helped to batter the Giants for 350 rushing yards last week. Given 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's ability to run the same style of offense, the fact that he's got power backs in Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde in this backfield, and given that the 49ers have allowed an NFL-leading 31 sacks - you just KNOW the Niners are going mimic the Seahawks until the Giants' defense proves it can stop the run. Coach Tom Coughlin and his staff spent extra time at practice going over the disciplined techniques their defenders must use to get the job done.
2. Giants LT Will Beatty vs. 49ers DE Aldon Smith. Beatty has been the Giants' most consistent offensive lineman this season and - given that Smith will be making his season debut after an NFL suspension - he simply must win this matchup. Smith will have only three practices going into the game, so regardless of his ability to dominate, the layoff should make him easier to contain. The Giants' can help themselves if they run directly at Smith, pound on him and wear him out because he's likely going to be over-aggressive in trying to spark the Niners' pass rush (only 15 sacks this season).
3. 49ers Vernon Davis vs. Giants LB Devon Kennard. Kennard, a rookie, will get the start the strong-side and have to deal with Davis out of the Giants' base defense. That's a handful for him. But what about the nickel? Jacquain Williams usually would draw this straw, but he's out because of a concussion. So it's up to either Kennard (or perhaps Spencer Paysinger) to man this spot in the sub package. Or the Giants could turn to their three-safety look and play a dime with either Quentin Demps or Stevie Brown taking on Davis. Of course, the dime also leaves the Giants open to being gashed by a power rushing attack, which has been a significant problem over the past month.
PREDICTION: 49ers 31, Giants 20
PREDICTION record vs. the spread: 7-2
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