The Carolina Panthers were waiting for Cam Newton to progress and turn their team into contenders, but they weren’t expecting it to happen this year. The Panthers earned a first-round bye and a date with the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. San Francisco took care of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field last week, and this team is getting hot at the right time. With Michael Crabtree back on the field after suffering a torn achilles, Colin Kaepernick is returning to his form of last year’s run to the Super Bowl with one of his favorite targets healthy again.
49ers Offense vs Panthers Defense
As stated previously, this 49ers offense has looked much better with their #1 receiver Michael Crabtree back in action. This has allowed Anquan Boldin to get less attention from opposing defenses, which is key for him considering his age and loss of speed. Vernon Davis remains the deep threat for this offense, and his health is key for Kaepernick to have the ability to throw the deep ball. As the passing game has been getting a lot of attention lately, its the 49ers running game that still makes this offense go. Frank Gore is a beast and Colin Kaepernick has the ability to run for big yards on broken plays.
The Panthers defense emerged as one of the best in the business this year, with linebacker Luke Kuechly leading the way as a defensive player of the year candidate. This defense only trails the Seahawks in most defensive statistic categories, so by no means is their an obvious way to attack them.
With the 49ers on the road, you have to expect for this team to come out and try to establish a running game. It won’t be a easy task, but the 49ers were the 3rd best rushing team this regular season, so I expect a battle between the trenches.
Panthers Offense vs 49ers Defense
They aren’t what they used to be, but this 49ers defense is still an elite squad who will give any offense trouble. Just like the Panthers defense, you aren’t going to find any glaring holes to attack this defense, so it is best to stick to what you do best.
The Panthers passing attack didn’t put up good statistics this year, but that didn’t mean this team struggled to throw the ball. Like many of these remaining NFC playoff teams, the Panthers running game is what makes the offense go. They finish 11th in rushing yards per game this year in the NFL, with DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton doing the bulk of the damage. The rushing attack was what opened up receivers downfield for Newton, who has gone all year without having good receivers. Steve Smith was expected to be a go-to receiver as he has been his whole career, but he appeared to have lost a step this year.
The 49ers are a 3-points favorite on the road for this one, and I can’t argue against this. They appear to be the best team in football right now and have no weaknesses on the team. 3 points is only a small favorite though, so don’t think Vegas forgot how good Carolina has been all year. I believe this game is going to be a defensive grind, and I can’t see either team pulling away with a two-possesion lead, so it will come down to a late 4th quarter drive.
Came Newton has been exceptional this year, and one thing he has proved is his ability to put together a late 4th quarter drive to win games for the Panthers. Kaepernick has looked better as of late but I don’t think this will continue. I’ve got the Panthers winning this game, but it will be close and come down to the final possessions.
Panthers 20 – 49ers 17