It was a glorifying regular season for the Carolina Panthers, starting off 1-3 and then proceeding to 12-4, assisted by a flaming eight-game winning-streak. The Panthers, who toppled the fiery Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints for rights to the NFC South Division, are now preparing for a home playoff game.
Carolina hasn’t been to the postseason since 2008, where they lost to the Arizona Cardinals. For as hot as Carolina’s been in the regular season, their opponents, the San Francisco 49ers, have remained hot even through -9 degree weather at Lambeau Field. The postseason pays no attention nor gives rewards for any regular season accomplishments; it’s a clean slate.
The 49ers possess all of the ability to battle the Panthers head-to-head; they have experience, skills, and talent. The last time these two teams played, it was during week 10, when Carolina slipped away with a 10-9 victory at Candlestick Park.
Let’s get to it. Something that stands out like a bruise here is Carolina’s offense, which ranks 26th overall and averages merely 22 points per game. The Panthers clearly don’t have the most explosive offense, which is a problem when they’re going against San Francisco’s outstanding fifth-ranked defense. The 49ers’ secondary is tremendous in pass-coverage; they held Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to just 20 points — Cam Newton won’t have a more successful fate. Outside of wide-out Steve Smith, Carolina’s receiving core poses no legitimate threat to the 49ers’ secondary. If Packers receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb couldn’t get the job done, it’s going to be a while until anyone does.
Now on to what everyone notices: Carolina’s stingy defense. Props are given here; they do have a gritty defense that will challenge Colin Kaepernick and his fellow squad. However, the last time Kaepernick saw this defense he was without one of his favorite targets, receiver Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is a substantial part to this offense’s playbook and will propel their success. Crabtree is assisted by the explosiveness of tight end Vernon Davis, tailback Frank Gore, and fellow wide-out Anquan Boldin. With Kaepernick and these guys, this isn’t only one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, but one of the best Carolina’s defense will have seen all year. Kaepernick not only throws well, but makes huge plays with his feet. The Panthers’ second-ranked defense is going to be tested, as well as exposed.
There’s also the experience factor. The 49ers have been here and done this; they’ve won playoff games and know what it takes. Carolina’s a good team, there’s no disputing that, but they lack San Francisco’s post-season experience. Home-field advantage isn’t going to threaten a 49ers team that just went on the road to defeat Rodgers at Lambeau in bone-chilling weather.
It’ll be a close game, but the 49ers will capture it. Newton’s offense doesn’t have the ammunition to surpass San Francisco’s top-five fortress. Kaepernick is a playmaker with both his feet and arm, and has Crabtree back, adding more blaze to an already-electrifying 49ers’ offense. San Francisco’s experience will allow them to shun Bank of America Stadium, pulling of a 24-20 victory.