How much does momentum mean?

The New York Giants charge into Sunday's wild-card game with an NFC-best four-game winning streak, having won seven of their final nine games. The 49ers stumble in after losing two of their final three games, having allowed 28 points in the final 12 minutes of their season-ending loss Monday at St. Louis. But does that really mean anything now that the playoffs are here?

The New York Giants charge into Sunday's wild-card game with an NFC-best four-game winning streak, having won seven of their final nine games. The 49ers stumble in after losing two of their final three games, having allowed 28 points in the final 12 minutes of their season-ending loss Monday at St. Louis. But does that really mean anything now that the playoffs are here?

Giants coach Jim Fassel doesn't seem to think so.

"I think everything switches now," Fassel said. "It's like starting a new season. We are the only team in the playoffs with a negative turnover ratio. We start from scratch now. The only thing I care about is that each game we can win the turnover margin by two. Forget the past. It doesn't matter. It is a single-elimination tournament with the 12 best teams in the league. We will tee it up. I don't care who we play. Let's tee it up and get the two teams after it."

The 49ers have been asked the momentum question for almost a month now. They clinched the NFC West title - and a playoff berth - with a win over Dallas on Dec. 8. Their playoff positioning essentially was determined a week later when they lost 20-14 to Green Bay.

The Niners spent the final two weeks basically preparing for the playoffs, resting injured players and limiting the playing time of others in an attempt to stay fresh for Sunday's playoff opener. That may have contributed to the fourth-quarter collapse Monday against the Rams.

Still, a definite perception exists that the Giants are on a roll entering the playoffs and the 49ers are not.

"I guess we'll find out Sunday," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "That's based on the last few games in December. It's based on the Giants going from 6-6 to 10-6, playing well and beating some good teams. That's based on us losing a few games. We were 3-2 in December. We had different scenarios, we were in different situations down the stretch, which I suppose leads to lesser production and consistency than you'd like to have. What we're hoping is that we have freshened up to a point where we are going to play better. That's where it all begins."

As Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said, "It ends up not being how you start out, but how you finish."

And on Sunday, either the 49ers or Giants will be finished. How either of them got there won't really matter.


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