Hopefully, you're in good graces this week with whatever is going on in your life and you'll get to watch both conference championship games. If all goes well, it'll be a full Sunday of pizza, wings, a quick nap, and more pizza while never getting out of your sweat pants. (That's a normal day for me, but when you add football it just makes it sound acceptable.)
But what if you can't? What if your gutters fall apart overnight on Saturday? What if Christina Hendricks calls you to come over "anytime" on Sunday? What if your grandmother hijacks a bus full of penguins (Thanks, "Better Off Dead") and you have to take a bullhorn and go talk her out of the bus to help free the cuddly and waddly? You're going to probably miss most of one of the games. So in this edition of The Viewer's Guide, we'll talk about the game out of the two you absolutely HAVE to see. The other? It's OK if you listen on the radio while driving to help your grandmother.
1. Is this the real Alex Smith? Finally? Forget about "The Catch III" or "The Grab." Vernon, this wasn't about you. When the ball is put in your stomach you're supposed to catch it. Yes, you got hit, but it wasn't as hard as T.O. got hit, and it was by a player smaller than you. This was about "The Throw," which was the best throw Smith has made in his life. I could hear the ball hiss through my TV set. A couple of Saints players could have reached out and tipped it, but it was by them so fast they couldn't even see it. Watch the replay from behind him and see the window he had to throw that ball. That was as big a throw as you'll ever see by ANY player in the NFL. Now can Smith keep it going? Did he peak with his 299-yard, three-TD day? I'm not expecting a re-run of last week, but right now he's playing with so much confidence I think he can keep it going against New York. I'm expecting a lot of huge throws from him when needed this week. You can't overvalue self-belief, and for the first time in his career, he has it. It could be his one moment in time rather than a leap to the next level, but it's still his moment.
2. Is Eli Manning really a top five QB? Absolutely, 100 percent he is. In fact, if I'm picking a QB for my team for one season, with a hope of a long playoff run, the top three on my list are Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli. Plenty of people gasped when I said this earlier in the week, but the fact is, even if you don't like his body language -- or even if he'll always be the little brother -- you can't ignore his accomplishments. Eli already has a Super Bowl, and he wins in the playoffs, both at home and on the road (with a specialty in Lambeau), and the Giants do it on the strength of his passing, not on the ground. Heath Evans and I were talking about what really sets him apart earlier this week and it's amazing how, just like Peyton and Brady, he always gets the Giants into the right play or formation at the line, adjusting to what the defense is hoping to do. It's why his wounded ducks and risky throws find receivers hands instead of DBs. This will be his stiffest test yet, but no matter what, he's officially Top Five Eli.
NFC championship breakdown
With two fierce defensive lines, the team that best controls the line of scrimmage could win Sunday's NFC Championship game. More ...
3. It's 1989 again! Growing up, football to me was always the 49ers at home for the NFC Championship Game. Whether it was Joe Montana or Steve Young, I think I spent my entire youth watching those gleaming gold helmets in the late afternoon January Bay Area sun. And most of the time they were playing the Giants. I just think "Giants-49ers" and I'm a kid again. I think of Leonard Marshall's crushing sack of Montana, the Giants' fake punt and game-winning field goal in 1991. The Giants blowing out the 49ers in 1986 after Jerry Rice fumbled while running for a sure TD in the first quarter. San Francisco returning the favor in 1993 behind Ricky Watters' five TD runs. (I was already over 30 years old for the 39-38 Matt Allen going deep thriller in 2002, so I won't even count that one.)
The only thing that could make this game perfect is if somehow the Giants went back to their old navy blue uniforms with "GIANTS" on their helmets. We already have San Francisco's jerseys featuring the old-school small last name print on their backs, so why not go all the way? And get Phil Simms to call THIS game instead of the AFC title game. Every time they show beauty shots of San Francisco during one of these games you see the fog rolling in behind the glinting sun and it makes me want to pack up my family and move there.
4. Maybe we'll actually see Freddie P. Soft. The fictional character that Jim Harbaugh created earlier this season to help motivate his team. As in "Freddie P. Soft is the guy who'll tell you you don't have to do another set on the weight bench. Freddie P. Soft is the guy who'll tell you that we're 4-1 and we can relax." You can't say enough about the job Jim Harbaugh has done, nor can you deny his craziness -- which is a good craziness -- but Freddie P. Soft is on another level. He actually has his own Twitter account. Now, I want to see someone dressed up as Freddie P. Soft on the sideline this weekend running around and yelling at the 49ers that it's OK to lose and be proud of what you've done. The crowd will go crazy. You can get someone to dress up in a Freddy Krueger mask (for Freddie) and toilet paper (for the Soft). As time goes on, this 49ers team is becoming more and more fun. And I think they beat the Giants to get to Indianapolis.