Penguins Beat Rangers

The Penguins took advantage of their opportunities and the Rangers didn't. It's that simple. Pittsburgh won 4-1 at MSG last night for their first victory of the season over the Rangers.

New York's defense, which has carried them all year, failed this time. The Blue Shirts gave up twice as many goals as they average on the season. Pitt took advantage of multiple defensive miscues by the Rangers, scoring two of their goals on fast breaks. New York couldn't stop Evgeni Malkin who took over the league lead in points after a pair of goals.

In their last meeting, New York was the aggressor. This time around it was Pitt. As a result, the Rangers had a very difficult time putting the puck in the net. They started off slowly, failing to record a shot on goal in the first half of the opening period. Kris Letang played well in his return for Pitt and Marc-Andre Fleury out-dueled Henrik lundqvist with 30 saves. Not surprisingly, the Rangers failed to cash in on power play opportunities. It's been a problem all year for New York--and this time they couldn't overcome it.

The Penguins showed the blueprint for beating the Rangers. Lundqvist played well. He always does. But the defense can be forced into mistakes. Teams that take advantage of them have a chance to win. Every night New York will have to take their opponent's best shot. That's the price you pay for being in first place. 

Giants vs. 49ers (-2.5): Sunday 6:30

To many, it feels like 2008 all over again. That year the Giants made perhaps the most improbable title run in NFL history. But this season is much different.  Four years ago, the Giants scratched and clawed their way to each win.  This year they're doing it in dominant fashion.  And while the Giants of '08 surprised everyone when they reached the Super Bowl, this year it may be a surprise if they fail to do so.

On Sunday, New York looks to punch its ticket to the Super Bowl with a win in San Francisco. The 49ers have been the biggest surprise of the season. They made the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They also did it with Alex Smith at quarterback, a major disappointment for his first six years in the league. The Niners have won games this year with a great defense and a QB who hasn't made mistakes. 

San Fran beat New York earlier in November 27-20. But this is a different Giants team. The Niners had one distinct advantage in that game: a superior defense. That's no longer the case. Big Blue's D is playing as well as any defensive unit has this season. They shut out a dominant Falcons offense and allowed just 20 points to Green Bay, maybe the best offense of all time. 

So without a distinct advantage on defense, this game comes down to the quarterbacks. Eli Manning is better than Alex Smith. It's not even a debate.

While the 49ers defense has been incredible against the run, it's only been average against the pass.  San Fran was 16th in pass defense in the regular season. The Giants are built to throw the ball, and should have success in the air.

It certainly won't be a cakewalk for New York. San Fran didn't allow a rushing touchdown until the last game of the season, and inclement weather may force the Giants to run the ball more than they'd like. The 49ers are also great at creating turnovers. This season they were tops in the league with a +38 turnover margin.  

The Niners had a better regular season, but that doesn't matter now. San Francisco is home, but the Giants are a playing better. They smacked the Packers around in Lambeau Field. The 49ers needed a miracle to beat the Saints, despite forcing five turnovers.

 All signs point to New York winning this game. Just look at the numbers. The Giants are 7-1 against the spread this year as underdogs. Rarely do teams cover a spread of less than 3 points and still lose. You do the math.  Giants 23, 49ers 16.