What are the juiciest matchups in 49ers v. Giants, Part Deux? Here's where my binoculars will be trained Sunday.
Giants receiver Victor Cruz vs. 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers
After intercepting Eli Manning on a pass intended for Cruz in Week 10, Rogers did his rendition of Cruz's "salsa dance" end-zone celebration. Rogers considered it more homage than insult. Rogers, who will be assigned to cover Cruz in the slot on Sunday, said the Giants receiver is as quick and as talented as any young receiver in the league. In fact, Rogers thought Cruz worthy of the Pro Bowl and voted for him last month. (Cruz fell short of an invite). Cruz led the Giants in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,536) and touchdowns (9) during the regular season, and he had five catches for 74 yards in their divisional-round win in Green Bay. Rogers is not as quick as his adversary but he has a veteran's savvy. He had six interceptions - two against the Giants - this season and he is coming off a strong game against the Saints in which he broke up three passes.
49ers tight end Delanie Walker vs. Giants linebacker Michael Boley
When the teams met Nov. 13, Boley was injured in the second half and Walker had a big day. He led the 49ers in receiving with six catches for 69 yards while fellow tight end Vernon Davis had three catches for 40 yards, including a 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the second half. The Giants are very unlikely to leave Davis, who had 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns last week, in single coverage like the Saints did. And that could create some opportunities for the 49ers second tight end. The 49ers have been careful to note that the Giants linebacking corps is healthier and playing better than it did in Week 10. But the 49ers still should be able to create mismatches with Boley and inside linebacker Chase Blackburn. Of course, that is contingent on Walker, who is recovering from a broken jaw, playing Sunday. He is listed as questionable and is expected to play.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning vs. 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson
Safety Donte Whitner said Monday that Manning is playing at the same level as Drew Brees and the league's most elite quarterbacks. He reads defenses as well as his brother, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Whitner said, and is throwing the ball as well as anyone. But even elite quarterbacks make mistakes as shown by Goldson's interception of Brees in the first quarter Saturday. Goldson has excellent hands, and he aggressively moved in front of Brees' intended target for the easy interception. Goldson's and Whitner's aggression, however, also cost the 49ers on two short and intermediate passes in the fourth quarter that turned into long touchdowns when they both missed tackles in the middle of the field. The duo will again have to walk a fine line against Manning and New York's quick and talented receivers. Big plays gave the 49ers the edge in the first half against New Orleans. Costly mistakes allowed the Saints to take the lead - twice - in the second.
Giants receiver Mario Manningham vs. 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver
Culliver has played more snaps this season than any 49ers rookie, and he was one of their more pleasant surprises in 2011. But his experience won't prevent other teams from picking on him. That was the case last week when Drew Brees and Marques Colston hooked up for a first-half touchdown. And it was the case in the 49ers-Giants matchup on Nov. 13. Eli Manning victimized Culliver on a touchdown throw to Manningham in the third quarter, then went after Culliver twice more on throws to the end zone on New York's final drive. One of those throws slipped off the Manningham's fingertips on a play that would have tied the game. If you thought Culliver looked a tad off his game against the Saints, he was. The rookie was dealing with a nasty flu that gave him stomach cramps and a 101-degree fever mere hours before the game. Culliver was back to full health this week.
-- Matt Barrows