Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/18/12
This weekend the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers will meet in San Francisco to determine who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. While both teams are full of talented players, this article examines five players who are going to be the biggest factors in determining if their team wins or loses this weekend.

Alex Smith, San Francisco:In football, praise for a successful offense, and the criticism for a poor offense, are usually placed on the shoulders of the quarterback. While Alex Smith deserves praise for his play at the end of the game against New Orleans, his play through the first three and a half quarters was not as spectacular.

San Francisco’s offense led by Smith started the game against New Orleans, scoring 17 unanswered points. However, after that the offense stalled out punting the ball seven times, and losing the ball once on a fumble, in their next eight possessions.

Fortunately, for San Francisco, New Orleans muffed one of those punts leading to a David Akers field goal. After another Akers field goal early in the fourth quarter, San Francisco led only 23-17, before the touchdown bonanza that ended the football game.

For San Francisco to win on Sunday, Smith and the entire San Francisco offense must play four full quarters of football.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco: Throughout the regular season, a reliable target for Smith has been Vernon Davis. Davis recorded at least one reception in every regular season game, broke the 100-yard receiving mark twice, and finished the season with 792 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

San Francisco’s game against New Orleans was extra special for Davis, who scored the game’s first touchdown, and the game’s final touchdown that gave San Francisco the win, while also recording 180 receiving yards.

Expect Smith to be looking Davis’ way in the game against New York, especially when San Francisco is in the red zone.

Dashon Goldson, San Francisco: Dashon Goldson had a great year for San Francisco, playing in 14 games during the regular season, recording 67 total tackles, six interceptions, and nine defended passes.

In San Francisco’s win over the New Orleans Saints, Goldson recorded 11 solo tackles; two defended passes and had an interception that he returned for 41-yards. If San Francisco is going to win a championship with defense, they are going to do it with great defense players like Goldson.

Eli Manning, New York: Although the New York Giants only posted a 9-7 record this season, Eli Manning overall had a good season with 4,933 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. In New York’s two playoff wins this year, Manning has thrown for 607 yards and six touchdowns.

New York and Manning seem to do enough to get into the playoffs and then find their spark. If Manning keeps having great games, the Giants is going to be a tough team to beat.

Hakeem Nicks, New York: Nicks has always been a good and reliable option for Manning. This season Nicks finished the season with 1,192 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. In the playoffs this year, Nicks has been nothing short of spectacular recording 280 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

If New York is going to win this game on the road, Manning must keep finding ways to get the ball into Nicks’ hands.

This will be an exciting game, and if Smith can get the offense going for San Francisco, this may turn out to be an offensive slugfest that plays out until the final moments. 
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