On wild-card weekend, the San Francisco 49ers went on the road and defeated the Green Bay Packers to advance to the next round of the playoffs. On Sunday, they’ll look to do the same thing to the Carolina Panthers.
San Francisco had one of the best regular seasons in the NFL, tying for second with a 12-4 record. However, they play in the NFC West with the 13-3 Seattle Seahawks, and were forced to make the playoffs as the No.5 seed. Last week, they visited Green Bay as favorites. In the divisional round, every road team is an underdog, except for the 49ers. They are giving the Panthers one point, who also went 12-4 during the year.
Carolina is not favored, even though they beat San Francisco in their Week 10 head-to-head matchup. The Panthers left Candlestick Park with a 10-9 victory on Nov. 10, giving them their fifth straight victory at the time. Both quarterbacks had, perhaps, their worst games of the season. In a winning effort, Cam Newton completed 50 percent of his passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Colin Kaepernick was even less effective, throwing for just 91 yards and registering a 42.0 passer rating.
After each signal caller struggled against the opposing defense, Kaepernick may have the better chance of playing well this time around. He’s put up very good numbers in four career postseason games, registering a 110.9 rating last season, and rushing for 98 yards in the 49ers win over the Packers. Newton has been in the league just as long, but he has no playoff experience.
"You don't want to be overthinking things," Newton said. "I have yet to experience a playoff game, but I know the atmosphere will be hectic to say the least."
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Newton’s top wide receiver has plenty of playoff experience. Steve Smith has played in eight career postseason games, recording 47 catches for 782 yards and seven touchdowns. The veteran hasn’t played since Week 16 because of a torn PCL, but he’ll be ready to go on Sunday with three weeks rest.
The contest features two of the best defenses in all of football. The Panthers (15.1) and 49ers (17.0) ranked second and third, respectively, in points allowed per game during the 2013 season. The over/under of 42 is the lowest of any of the playoff games, thus far. Carolina surrendered more than 20 points just once after Week Five, and San Francisco held almost half their opponents to 14 points or less.
While Newton and Kaepernick may be forced to make big plays down the stretch, the running game is likely to play a major role in determining the outcome. The 49ers are third in the NFL in rushing yards, but only one team has allowed fewer yards on the ground than Carolina. C.J. Spiller in Week Two is the only running back to go for over 100 yards against the Panthers. In their regular season matchup, Frank Gore picked 82 yards against Carolina.
Betting Odds: San Francisco -1, 42
Prediction: San Francisco 20, Carolina 17