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Better Know the Enemy: San Francisco 49ers

A look ahead at this week's Giants foe

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Someone's afraid of Aldon Smith, but it isn't Tom Coughlin.

    Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Giants' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the San Francisco 49ers.

    Eli Manning got the gig after the Super Bowl last season, but Tom Coughlin should really get a look from the producers of Saturday Night Live.

    Seriously. The guy's a comedy genius.

    "Nobody gives us a chance to win," Coughlin said Wednesday about this week's game against the 49ers. "We’ll see."

    Should you be concerned about Coughlin's lack of comedy experience, he actually said that with a straight face. Coughlin's research into who is giving the Giants a chance must have began and ended with calling 10 49ers season ticket holders at random, because this attempt at turning this week into a case of the whole world being against the Giants rings hollow.

    First of all, the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions and a team championed by many people inside and outside of New York for their myriad abilities. Second, they beat these same 49ers last year in San Francisco on a day when they played less than their best to advance to the Super Bowl. 

    And, finally, there's the fact that the Giants really can't beating this poor us card, not publicly anyway, now that they've won two of the last five Super Bowls without sounding more than a little hypocritical. They always claim that talk is cheap around the Giants, but they certainly seem to like listening to it.  

    At least Coughlin had the sense to wait for a week when the Giants are actually underdogs to bust out his latest variation on trying to motivate a bunch of players who frankly shouldn't need such constant prodding to be bothered with doing their jobs. The 49ers are the best team the Giants have faced all season and could stake a claim to being the best team in the first five weeks of the season. 

    They're coming off wins over the Jets and Bills by a combined 79-3 score, they returned the lights-out defense from last season and added some potency to an offense that lacked it last season. They're balanced (300+ rushing and passing yards last week) on both sides of the ball and have some pretty heavy motivation after getting close to the Super Bowl last season. 

    The idea that they've been crowned some kind of juggernaut, though? No evidence of such a state of affairs exists, although beating the Giants this week would be a pretty sizable feather in their cap. 

    Here's some of the players who will be trying to make that happen.

    Alex Smith: You could make a pretty strong argument that Smith's play in the NFC title game, not Kyle Williams' fumbles, was the reason why the 49ers couldn't knock off the Giants. He's still not a perfect quarterback, but he's getting time to throw and making those throws count a lot more often than he did last season. 

    Two other guys named Smith: Justin Smith is an uncommonly good 3-4 defensive end, capable of disrupting an offense whether it decides to run or pass. Aldon Smith is an uncommonly good edge rusher who isn't showing any signs of a sophomore slump. Those with long memories will remember the beating Eli Manning took last year and wonder if the Giants blockers are able to handle the rush this time. 

    Vernon Davis: There was a lot of talk about the additions to the wide receiver corps in San Francisco this year -- Randy Moss always draws a crows -- but mentioned less was the way the guys on the outside take attention away from Davis. The 49ers have exploited that this year and they'll likely look Davis' way this week with Kenny Phillips on the sideline. 

    Ground and Pound: Those guys who share the Meadowlands like to talk about it, but the 49ers actually live it behind an offensive line that has overwhelmed their opponents most weeks this season. They also have more versatility than most teams in the way they attack defenses on the ground, something that could test a Giants team that hasn't done well in that department in the last two weeks. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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