NFC Divisional Round: San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers
When: Sunday, January 12th at 10am PT (1pm ET)
Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
TV: FOX (National)
Northern/Central California: KTVU 2 San Francisco; KTXL 40 Sacramento; KMPH 26 Fresno; KCVU 20 Chico/Redding; KBVU 28 Eureka; KBFX 58 Bakersfield
North Carolina: WJZY 46 Charlotte; WGHP 8 Greensboro; WRAZ 50 Raleigh-Durham
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
So We Meet Again- The San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers meet once again, this time for the right to advance to the NFC title game next weekend. The two teams met this season in Week 10 with the Panthers edging out the 49ers at Candlestick Park 10-9. The Panthers from there would go on to win the NFC South Division and capture the number two seeding in the NFC playoff bracket. The 49ers after a controversial loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 11 have bounced back having won their last seven games in row. The 49ers have the tough assignment of looking for some payback against the Panthers doing so in a playoff scenario on the road. Then again the 49ers have been solid on the road as of late finding ways to win games late and having the confidence to stick with their game plan through thick and thin. Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, and Cam Newton of the Panthers are two very similar quarterbacks who basically are a mirror image of one another. Kaepernick and Newton both throw the ball with great accuracy and are very confident that they’re receiving corps will make plays. Both quarterbacks aren’t afraid to run the ball on their own either should the situation call for it. At the same time, both defenses are very high octane as well as both are in the top 10 (if not the top five) of the NFL in most defensive categories. You can certainly make an argument as to why either team should be able to win this game and both arguments would have a great deal of merit. This could be one of those game where in the end it comes down to who possess the football last and could be every bit the nail bitter that the game in Green Bay was last weekend.
Panthers Scouting Report- Aside from the obvious abilities of QB Cam Newton, the Panthers feature a stable of talented offensive players to go along with a very good offensive front line. DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert anchor the Carolina backfield. Jonathan Stewart can also be inserted as a running back when the situation calls for it. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith has been sidelined of late with an injury and his status for this game at press time was not known. If he can go, he most likely will go. Greg Olson is also a reliable receiving threat having caught 73 passes this season for 816 yards and six touchdowns. Brandon LaFell and former 49er Ted Ginn Jr have also given Newton reliable go-to-guys when under pressure to get rid of the ball quickly. Both Williams and Tolbert have been known to come out of the backfield to take short passes and turn them into sizable plays up field. Graham Gano handles the extra-point and field goal duties for the Panthers. On defense Carolina is one of the top shut down units in the NFL. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Mike Mitchell, Captain Munnerlyn, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are amongst those who are leading one of the league’s best units. Hardy and Johnson between the two them have 26 quarterback sacks this season. They know how to get pressure on any offensive unit and hold them to many three and out series. In the first game between these two teams in Week 10, the 49ers offense only had one possession in the second half that wasn’t a three and out and only one second half first down thanks to this unit. Look for the Panthers defense to try and build on an already successful game plan from nine weeks ago.
What 49ers Need To Do- The 49ers certainly do not have an easy task before them. The Panthers are a rock solid team with few flaws and know how to play grind it out football. The 49ers need to be a little more innovative and make the best use of what they have which is plenty of fire power to go around. In the first meeting between these two teams the 49ers did not have Michael Crabtree back yet. Since Crabtree’s return he has become once again a regular contributor to the offense and has allowed the offense to better spread the field, which serves Kaepernick better. The 49ers can pass the ball on the Panthers provided Kaepernick gets enough time and a space from his offensive line. Kaepernick needs to find ways to get more passes to Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis (who left the first Carolina game with a concussion), Quentin Patton as well as Crabtree. The 49ers are going up against the number two run defense in the NFL, so running the ball could be a dicey proposition unless the 49ers can sustain blocks at the front line. If Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter can find some openings and get some yardage this will allow the 49ers a better chance of spreading the Panthers defense. The 49ers can also always rely on Phil Dawson if any drive in Panthers territory comes up short. Meanwhile the 49ers defense will present the same problems to the Carolina offense and Cam Newton. The 49ers defense has been tested hard in the last couple of outings, but ultimately in last week’s win over the Packers did not give up too many big play opportunities. The 49ers defense must do the same thing here only maybe even a little better. NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith when on their games are almost like a human wall. Eric Reid, Trummaine Brock and Perish Cox have made the 49ers secondary one of the more solid units in the NFL. This said, keep in mind the 49ers defensive unit will be very busy. Then again so will Carolina’s.
Kingshark Line- The Panthers enter this game fully rested with an additional week to prepare for an opponent that ultimately was the 49ers. The Panthers have already beaten the 49ers this season and know what it takes to get it done. Where the 49ers have an edge is playoff experience which frankly is invaluable. Last weeks squeaker in Green Bay if it did anything may have galvanized this 49ers team as they now know the next man up is always ready and willing to go. Combine that with the last two seasons worth of playoff experiences and this 49ers team has learned how to play in high pressure games when the stakes are the highest. Add to that they are not phased by anything that has happened previously or what has just happened, they are able to keep playing on an even keel. The Panthers are strong competition and will give the 49ers all they can handle just as Green Bay did last week. The 49ers however have the playoff experience and are the healthier and hotter group this time around. 49ers 20 Panthers 17.
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