Though the stakes are much higher and both teams look much better than they did earlier in the season, the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants can expect plenty of their first matchup to parallel the second on Sunday in the NFC Championship game. Both offenses will likely struggle while both defenses will likely stifle. It's a textbook matchup at its core, and yet, it's so hard to predict what will happen. Things have been happening that most would never have predicted: things like the Giants dominating the Green Bay Packers and Alex Smith orchestrating two 85-yard touchdown drives to out-gun Drew Brees.
If you take variables like that and throw them into the teams' first matchup, and you get something wildly unpredictable. These teams have changed a lot over the course of the season. Let's take a look at three of the keys offensively that has changed for the 49ers.
Alex Smith's confidence should be at an all-time high. Coming into the game against the Giants, people wondered if the 49ers were going to open up the offense against a tough team. There was two conservative games against Cleveland and Washington in which Smith played well but was still unremarkable, and most figured Smith would need a big game against the Giants. He came through when he needed to and, though he didn't have a huge game, he got it done. There's no reason for him to not be confident at this point.
Frank Gore's health isn't a concern at this point. Following the game, I wrote about two players that played poorly and noted that they shouldn't even have played. One of them was Ray McDonald, and the other was Gore. He just did not run well, he fell down, he lacked burst and he didn't look like a feature back by any means. But now, Gore is healthy and he ran very well against the New Orleans Saints. He'll be looking for a big game against New York.
Greg Roman's gameplan has evolved significantly. The team has been a far-cry from the doom scenario that Jim Schwartz painted for Jim Harbaugh during the offseason, but the offense did take awhile to develop. All of the coaches were adamant that they have been picking things up on the fly from the very beginning. Now, it seems like they've finally hit their stride, especially on offense. Even against the Saints, when they struggled with the play-calling, they were able to pull things out that were simply genius, like the Alex Smith scramble.