The green sign along the ribbon of concrete that leads San Franciscans into Silicon Valley offers more information about football attitudes than distances these days.

"Redwood City 3," it reads. "Palo Alto 11."

The city where the team with the best record in the National Football League trains is eight miles up U.S. Rte. 101 from the place where Super Bowl XIX will be played.

And a considerable chunk of the San Francisco 49ers' following believes that Palo Alto ought to incorporate its team, crown it champions of the NFL right now and preempt things like Saturday's NFC semifinal game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park (4 p.m., WDVM-TV-9).

A local columnist wrote his entire column today without mentioning the Giants, ending it this way: "(Joe Montana is) one of the main reasons the 49ers will win the Super Bowl."

The San Francisco Chronicle already has a book out, entitled, "The Super Season." Radio disc jockeys are predicting a three-touchdown victory over the Giants in what is apparently, to them, just a warmup for the Super Bowl.

Lest one think Super Bowl mania hasn't collared the players themselves, listen to defensive end Dwaine Board, a crucial pass rusher in the 49ers' nickel defense.

"I've had a feeling from the time we left Washington last year that we should be in the Super Bowl this year," he said, referring to a controversial 24-21 loss to the Redskins in the NFC championship game.

"We didn't accomplish our mission, so, this year, we're going to take it all the way," he said.

"We won't be beaten."

There is no great reason to think he will be wrong. The Giants, who have a 10-7 record after a 16-13 upset of the Los Angeles Rams in last Sunday's wild card game, lost to the 49ers, 31-10, earlier in the season. They were out of the game, 21-0, in the first eight minutes.

They lost six more regular-season games than the 49ers, who have a 15-1 record. The 49ers are, by and large, a bunch of veterans who wear Super Bowl rings. The Giants have 22 players, including 10 starters, with less than two years' experience, and have only 17 holdovers from the '81 team that last lost to the 49ers, 38-24, in the NFC semifinals.

The 49ers are more consistent, have more depth and are generally regarded as a better team -- a much better team -- than the Giants.

Yet inconsistency may be the Giants' most important attribute. Eight days before they lost to the 49ers in October, the Giants lost to the Rams, 33-12.

The playoffs have given the Giants time to right themselves. San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh called it "maturing."

"The Giants are one game up on us," Board said this afternoon. "This has been our hardest week because we've been off for two weeks. But we have everything going for us and are as confident as ever. It's just plain confidence, not overconfidence."

But they are leery of the unknown. Last week, the Giants went to ball control to keep the Rams' Eric Dickerson on the sideline.

"My biggest concern," Board said, "is that the Giants will keep us off balance. They want to keep our offense (third in the NFL in rushing, fourth in passing) off the field as much as possible."

Walsh is guessing the surprise will come through the air.

"I think they'll throw," he said. "My guess is they'll throw 45 passes. That doesn't mean they won't run in a calculated way, but I think the forward pass will be their weapon.

"One of the reasons is they threw for a lot of yardage on us the last time we played. They'll feel that's where their avenue to success is."

This falls into the "You-heard-it-here-first" category, and explains why the 49ers' nickel defense is coming in for a lot of attention. But, this week, down in Fresno, where they set up headquarters, the Giants were saying they will need to establish a running game. Strategy and counter-strategy might have little bearing if the 49ers get off to their accustomed start. They outscored regular-season opponents, 110-29, in the first quarter.

San Francisco coasted through the final minutes of many of their games, which explains why the Giants, behind quarterback Phil Simms' 290 passing yards, outgained them (389-384) in their first meeting.

The Giants expect the 49ers to pass, too.

"They have an excellent defense to stop the running game," said Walsh, who considers New York's defense to be better than Pittsburgh's because of ends Curtis McGriff and Leonard Marshall and linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

San Francisco lost to the Steelers, 20-17, six days after beating the Giants.

"They've had some injuries in their secondary and I think the forward pass is the way we would approach the game with the Giants," Walsh added.

The most important injury for San Francisco is to Pro Bowl cornerback Mark Haynes, who has a strained knee. He is on injured reserve and will not play.

Walsh is predicting a high-scoring game. But he won't predict one dictated by emotion, the underdog Giants' edge.

"I don't believe our team will be unnerved by anything," he said. "We've just been together too many years.

"Anything can happen, but I don't think it would happen to us because we were complacent or overconfident or uneasy because we had everything to lose."