At times on Sunday the 49ers' defense stiffened against the Giants, but most of the time it was just stiff. Put it against a high-powered attack and you'd figure the Niners would have to score 40 to win, but now they're facing the NFL's 24th-ranked offense, led by a quarterback ( Brad Johnson) who hasn't played since Dec. 15. That's not what's on the minds of some of the Niners, though. Players with long memories might recall the last meeting with Tampa Bay, in 1997, a game that marked the coming of age of the Bucs' defense. Tampa Bay knocked Steve Young out of the game with a concussion and sidelined Jerry Rice for most of the year with a torn knee ligament, and the Bucs won 13-6. For the last three games, though, ever since Tampa Bay clinched a playoff spot, the defense has been on cruise control.
It'll be stoked on Sunday. The condition of 49ers left tackle Derrick Deese, who went out of the game against the Giants with a sprained left ankle, will be critical. He matches up well against Simeon Rice, the NFC sack leader this season. The Bucs haven't had an emotional game in quite a while. They will this time.
The Pick: Bucs 20, Niners 17