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Giants have bridge to cross with trip to San Francisco

The NFC East leaders looks to allay concerns about ability to win in second half of seasons and entrench their playoff position. For NFC West-leading 49ers, a win could help them earn playoff bye.

November 08, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • New York quarterback Eli Manning will look to help the Giants pick up another big win this week against the San Francisco 49ers.
New York quarterback Eli Manning will look to help the Giants pick up another… (Greg M. Cooper / U.S. Presswire )

The New York Giants still have 14 players left from their Super Bowl title season of 2007, and their powerful home crowd makes for a mighty home-field advantage in the biting cold of January playoffs.

On the heels of Sunday's impressive victory in New England that marked the first loss by the Patriots with Tom Brady at quarterback in 31 regular-season home games, the NFC East-leading Giants (6-2) look to entrench their playoff position when they travel to NFC West-leading San Francisco (7-1) on Sunday.

"It'll take superior preparation and a superior game — high energy, physical game — for us to travel out there and win," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said.

The 49ers also won on the road Sunday, traveling to the Eastern time zone for the fourth time and defeating the Washington Redskins, 19-11 — not as impressive as the Giants' triumph, but solid nonetheless.

Running back Frank Gore rushed for 107 yards to extend his string of 100-plus games to five. Coach Jim Harbaugh said he marvels at the small crevices Gore is able to wedge through.

The 49ers' run defense allowed no such cracks, stuffing the Redskins to just 52 yards on the ground. San Francisco leads the NFL in rushing defense, and hasn't given up a rushing touchdown.

Harbaugh, in fact, is taking on a slightly arrogant tone. When asked whether the team that started 0-5 last year is exceeding his expectations, the coach said, "We would've liked to be 8-0."

Barring a stunning collapse, the 49ers will cruise to the NFC West title, but if they want a playoff-round bye, a victory against the Giants is a valuable marker to have in the bank with Baltimore and Pittsburgh still on the schedule.

The Giants are hoping to get injured receiver Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) back for the 49ers game.

Coach Tom Coughlin also wants to set aside questions about his team's ability to win in the second half of seasons after struggling to do so in recent years.

Building the confidence to eradicate that reputation has been the Giants' knack for rallies — at Arizona on Oct. 2, late field goal to beat Buffalo on Oct. 16, and back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by quarterback Eli Manning (2,377 yards, 15 touchdowns) the last two weeks against the Dolphins and Patriots.

"We've talked about finishing since day one," Coughlin told reporters Monday. "We talk about it every Saturday night. That's the point. Do we talk about anything that has to do with the past? No. We talk about this now being an eight-game schedule and the next game is the most important game of the year."

Pittsburgh (6-3) at Cincinnati (6-2)

Stinging from a brutal, late division loss to Baltimore, the Steelers venture to the unexpected AFC North leader, which rallied on the road last week to beat Tennessee.

New Orleans (6-3) at Atlanta (5-3)

The Saints are only 1-3 on the road, and that victory was a field-goal margin over Carolina, so this battle for the NFC South lead against improving Michael Turner, Matt Ryan and Co. is intriguing.

New England (5-3) at New York Jets (5-3)

This Sunday night game for the AFC East lead — the other leader, Buffalo, plays at Dallas earlier in the day — finds the Patriots mired in a two-game losing slump and the Jets coming off a show of manhood by winning at the excited Bills.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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