There is nothing more annoying than hearing a fan say: "the only team that can beat [my team] is [my team]," implying that said team is so dominant that the only way they could possibly lose is by shooting themselves in the foot. If the opposing team is able to upset the favorite, this arrogant mantra downplays the opposing team's accomplishments by implying they were lucky enough to be the beneficiary of the far superior team's mistakes.
Surely, there were tons of Packers and Saints fans that felt this way this past weekend, and there will be Giants and 49ers fans that feel this way now. Fans of both teams are uttering the old phrase "if we play our A-game, it doesn't matter who we're playing." But what if both teams play their A-games?
The truth is that the only team that can beat your team is the opposing team, and specifically, the players that play for them. Here are the 49ers players that scare me:
Did you see him bull-rush the Saints' left tackle into Drew Brees on Saturday? Smith is an absolute beast, and he frightens me more than any other 49er. I hardly knew anything about him before this season, but he has turned into one of the ten most ferocious defensive players in the NFL. Smith's "Ferocious Factor," a metric I just fabricated, was 9.2 for the 2011 season. For comparison's sake, Jason Pierre-Paul's FF was 9.4, so you know Smith is a monster.
The rookie had 14 sacks this year, and he doesn't even start. He was the 7th overall pick for a reason; the kid's got more talent than Bill Leavy has hate-mail.
There are three Smiths on this list, and that doesn't sit right with me. Still, how can I keep the former #1 overall pick off of this list after the way he played last weekend? I don't think he's good enough to play that way on a consistent basis, but he's improved at an alarming rate, he doesn't make mistakes (the 49ers turnover ratio of +28 is tops in the league), and it's not out of the realm of possibility for this guy to have back to back great games.
Maybe you saw him on Saturday in the form of the 49ers' offense. Davis caught seven passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and was basically un-coverable all game long. Although he had a relatively quiet season, this is the same player that tied Antonio Gates' single-season touchdown record for a tight end a couple years ago, before Rob Gronkowski was created in a laboratory and sent back from the future to destroy all record books.
In San Francisco's run-heavy offense, Davis has not been utilized to his potential, and is often kept in as a blocker, an area in which he also excels. If he ever had the benefit of being part of a pass-heavy offense with a Hall of Fame QB, it's possible that Davis would put up numbers comparable to those of Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. For one game, Davis did just that, setting the NFL single-game playoff record for yards by a tight end (a record that will soon be broken by Gronkowski). Although the Giants have done a much better job of defending the tight end recently, Davis is easily the most dangerous skill position player on the 49ers' offense.
In his first eight games, Gore topped 100 yards five times, averaging at least 4.0 yards a carry in each of those five games. In the second eight games of the regular season, Gore failed to reach 100 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry in only one game. Which Gore will show up? Last week against the Saints, Gore carried 13 times for 89 yards (6.8 average) and was a weapon in the passing game (7 receptions, 38 yards) something he has not been all season. If he's this successful against the Giants, the 49ers' offense will have a chance to put up some points.
This inside linebacker is not much of a playmaker, but he's a tackling machine who seems to vacuum the ball carrier and racks up tackles, much like Atlanta's Curtis Lofton. His 143 tackles are easily most on the team.
Justin Smith is the 49er that impressed me most this season, but Patrick Willis is still the best, most talented player on their defense. He just doesn't have any flaws. Future hall of famer.
Alex Smith and Crabtree were not on the same page against the Saints; the receiver was targeted 10 times, but caught only 4 passes for 25 yards. Crabtree had three drops, but he also caught a touchdown pass to put the Niners up 14-0. It was a mixed bag for Crabtree, which is how it's been for most of his career. Lately, he's finally started to show glimpses of being a #1 receiver; he actually led the 49ers with 114 targets, 72 receptions and 874 yards.
He's not as big or fast as Vernon Davis, but the 49ers will certainly try to get him involved in the offense. San Francisco doesn't have much receiving depth, so if Crabtree and Davis don't have big games, it will be tough for them to move the ball through the air.
Giants fans hate David Akers. Unfortunately, he's still a fantastic kicker, and was possibly the best in the league this year. If the game comes down to Akers' left foot, the Giants are in trouble.
Whereas Akers might be the best kicker in the NFL, there is no question as to the league's best punter. Lee led the NFL in both yards per punt and net yards per punt. Also, I never trust anyone who has two first names.