Epic battles for NFC supremacy. Eight playoff wars since 1982. Quarterback heroes. Quarterback hits. Hall of Famers galore. And, gulp, costly fumbles.
The 49ers and New York Giants sure put on high-stakes shows. Until now.
Sunday's matchup at Levi's Stadium pits the NFC's bottom feeders. The Giants are 1-7, their worst start since 1980. The 49ers are 0-9, uncharted futility even amid the franchise's recent tailspin.
These stakes: draft positions, job security, and, well, self-health.
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Storied rivalry aside, the only historic game worth bringing up is a 1984 meeting between the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. That's the last time two teams met with one or fewer combined wins so late in a season; the host Bills fell to 0-10 once Earnest Byner's 55-yard fumble return lifted the Browns to their second win, 13-10.
Why has it gone so wrong for the 49ers and Giants? Simply, the 49ers are still in tear-down mode before a true rebuild, while the Giants are in a freefall from playoff contention with an aging quarterback, embattled coach and lackluster roster.
Common threads can be found between the 49ers and Giants:
1. Coaching questions: Kyle Shanahan has brought last season's Super Bowl-loss mojo (and pass-happy calls) to his first head-coaching gig. Strapped by a talent-thin roster that gets thinner each week, Shanahan does not look overwhelmed, even while juggling play-calling duties and overall responsibilities.
If things don't improve a year from now, Shanahan could draw heat similar to what Giants coach Ben McAdoo is encountering, even after McAdoo went 11-5 last season upon his promotion from offensive coordinator to replace Tom Coughlin.
Midway through this season, he's caught flak for his blunt criticism of Eli Manning and suspension of two cornerbacks, among other reasons, especially after their latest loss in 51-17 fashion at home to the Rams.
"We've been eliminated?" McAdoo defiantly said on a conference call with Bay Area media.
"Pretty darn close," a reporter responded.
"Well I'm not ready to go without a fight, that's for sure," McAdoo said.
2. Quarterback issues: The Giants were only 0-2 when McAdoo publicly called out Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and owner of most Giants passing records. Specifically, Manning blamed "sloppy quarterback play" on a delay-of-game penalty near the goal line.
Newsday columnist Bob Glauber called it "the most tone-deaf moment of McAdoo's brief tenure." Well, McAdoo was at it again this week, telling Bay Area media "a good place to start for Eli would be to take care of the football."
Manning, who routinely has high and low performances, has had six passes intercepted and lost three fumbles. In comparison, the 49ers have seen Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard get eight passes intercepted and lost three fumbles.
Beathard is slated to make his fourth straight start, but Jimmy Garoppolo might make his debut, which is what McAdoo said he's expecting.
3. Injuries: The 49ers have an abnormally high 18 players on injured reserve, but the Giants have 17, including star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall. Beckham, a Pro Bowler each of his past three years, went out with a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 4, which is when the Giants offense also lost center Weston Richburg.
Most of the 49ers' casualties are on defense – defensive lineman Arik Armstead and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – but Pierre Garcon's Week 8 exit to a neck injury robbed the offense of their top receiver, like the Giants.
4. Player unrest: Two Giants anonymously ripped McAdoo this past week to ESPN, saying he's "lost this team," a team that's lost 7 of 8. No 49ers have called out Shanahan, although linebacker NaVorro Bowman came closest by refusing to accept a revised role and demanding his Oct. 14 release.
What's set the Giants apart in the player-discipline area this season is suspensions levied against cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (argued with McAdoo on the sideline) and Janoris Jenkins (returned late from bye week).
5. Lousy defense. Let's let the statistics tell the story about two of the league's worst defenses.
Points allowed per game: 26. 6 by the 49ers (31st in league), 25.9 by the Giants (29th).
Rushing yards per game: 135.7 by the 49ers (32nd), 125.9 by the Giants (tie-28th).
Overall yards per game: 380.4 by the 49ers (27th), 391.1 by the Giants (30th).
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh insisted the 49ers are performing better in the run game. "The yards don't show it but from an efficiency standpoint, it's much improved and can be a lot better," said Saleh, noting their respectable average of 3.9 yards per carry.
The 49ers are on pace to allow 2,171 rushing yards, much better than last season's 2,654-yard total (4.8 ypc.). That said, the 49ers had the league's best run defense six years ago, when they faced the Giants for the NFC Championship, losing that game in overtime.
Asked if the 49ers defense might gamble more in desperation for a win Sunday, Manning told New York reporters: "Hey, I think both teams need a win."