Patriots guard Logan Mankins vs. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- This is a battle of two perennial Pro Bowl players who haven't quite had the seasons that many expected. Even so, they're still good football players. Ngata has been blocked more this season than any other of his recent years. Mankins is a physical player who is among the NFL's best when he's at the top of his game. He has to move Ngata if the Patriots are to have any chance to run.
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul vs. 49ers tackle Joe Staley -- It all starts for the Giants up front with Pierre-Paul. He is a physical freak who can influence the game with his pass rush. Staley is a solid player in pass protection, but the 49ers helped him a lot in the first game. I look for them to do the same here.
Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots tackles Nate Solder and Matt Light -- Suggs is the best pass rusher for the Ravens, but he didn't get a sack last week against the Texans. Solder and Light shut out Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil last week. Suggs plays both sides on defense, so both players will have their chances against him. They can't allow him to get going. He tends to get sacks in bunches.
Ravens center Matt Birk vs. Patriots defensive tackles Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork -- Birk isn't as powerful as he once was, so I would expect the Patriots to keep a player on his nose for most of the game. If they can control the middle, it will make it tough for Ray Rice to get going. In the 2009 game, Birk got a great block on Wilfork to spring Rice for an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game.
Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz vs. 49ers corners Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown -- Nicks and Cruz are a handful for whoever they face. Nicks is big and fast, while Cruz is small and quick. Rogers has had an outstanding season, one that will get him a fat contract as a free agent. Brown has been solid. The 49ers used a lot of zone in the first meeting, so it will be interesting to see if they change it up.
49ers tight end Vernon Davis vs. Giants safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle -- Davis had 180 receiving yards last week against the Saints, including the game-winning score in the final seconds. The 49ers love to move him around a lot in their formations, lining him up both wide and in-line. That makes him a tough player to defend. He did catch a touchdown pass in the first game between the teams in Week 10, but the Giants did a pretty good job on him most of that game. I would expect the two safeties to spend a lot of time on him. There's also a chance dime safety Deon Grant could play him some.
49ers outside linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith vs. Giants left tackle David Diehl -- There are some out there who think Diehl is horrible. He isn't. But he will have his hands full with Smith in passing situations. The rookie outside rusher from Missouri has become a real force off the edge. Diehl has to be able to hold up against him if Eli Manning is to have time to make big throws down the field.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski vs. Ravens safety Ed Reed -- How do you stop Gronkowski? You don't. You just have to hope to contain him. I would imagine that Reed, one of the best safeties ever, would spend time on him. He can run with Gronkowski, but the tight end has a huge edge in terms of size.
Patriots receiver Wes Welker vs. Ravens corners Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams -- Other than Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, Welker is the only other real receiving threat. He does most of his damage in the middle of the field. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens play one of their starting corners on him. Webb has had a Pro Bowl-type of season and had two picks last week. Williams has been a pleasant surprise. Nickel corner Jimmy Smith will also be in the mix. He is a rookie.
49ers quarterback Alex Smith vs. himself -- This is the biggest game of his life. Smith played well last week against the Saints when given the chance to throw. Was it his coming-out game or an aberration? We'll know by Sunday night. He sure looks more comfortable in the pocket now than the Smith we saw the past couple of seasons.