Even though the San Francisco 49ers will probably not admit it, the team had this game circled on their calendar since the 2012-13 schedule came out. After demoralizing the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, the New York Giants present the Niners with their toughest task to date. For the third time in 12 months, the Giants will travel to San Francisco to take on the Niners. San Francisco won the first meeting in November, but that pales in comparison to the Giants' 20-17 victory in the NFC Championship Game.
Both franchises have made numerous offseason roster transactions, but their core remains intact. Despite the additions of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and rookie A.J. Jenkins, the Niners still lean heavily on the run while playing stout defense. On the opposing sideline, the Giants rely on Eli Manning and his receivers to make the big play with their defensive line continuing to wreak havoc. As long as Jim Harbaugh and Tom Coughlin remain in charge, don't expect their team's identity to change.
With the Niners fresh off a 621-yard performance against Buffalo, the Giants defense should put up a much tougher fight. In their NFC Championship battle, Big Blue sacked Alex Smith six times while holding him to just 178 passing yards while leading wideout Michael Crabtree only had one catch for three yards. If the offensive line can buy Smith some time in the pocket, the Niners' new-and-improved receiving group could inflict some damage to the Giants' suspect pass defense.
Manningham will undoubtedly see time against him former team, but it does not appear that Brandon Jacobs will receive the same treatment. After addressing his role and lack of playing time, Jacobs and Harbaugh felt it would be best to wait until he is fully recovered from his knee injury. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have formed a potent tandem in the backfield, so Jacobs' services is not a necessity, but it would have added drama to the matchup.
Another off-the-field story involves Carlos Rogers and Giants receiver Victor Cruz as the two have exchanged comments through the media regarding his trademark salsa dance. Cruz stated that his celebration was a tribute to his grandmother and that he would be offended if Rogers imitated the dance (Rogers performed the salsa after recording an interception in last season's regular season matchup). It's a small headline, but it only adds to the disdain that the two teams have for each other.
However, one thing is for certain: the Niners do not want to see Cruz or any Giants receiver for that matter dance in the end zone. What was once a physical, blue-collar offense that focused on controlling the ball, has turned into an explosive, pass-happy offense. With the aforementioned Cruz and Hakeem Nicks excelling in yards after the catch, Rogers, Donte Whitner and the rest of the secondary must gang tackle the slippery wideouts. If Nicks is unable to suit up, or is slowed by his knee and foot injury, backups Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden have shown that they are capable of making plays.
This matchup would not make up for last year's postseason defeat should the Niners come out with a victory, but it brings them one step closer to making the playoffs. With that loss still fresh in the fans' and players' minds, the Bay Area will be filled with emotion and excitement come Sunday afternoon. Both franchises have a rich tradition, but today's Niners and Giants have established a heated, modern-day rivalry that won't go away any time soon.
Sources: espn.com pro-football-reference.com sacbee.com
Travis Chan is a longtime fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Giants and Golden State Warriors. He is also a contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.