The previous game between the two teams was a physical, defensive battle without too much offensive spark. The Carolina Panthers hope the playoff version of the game will be more of the same, while the San Francisco 49ers are hoping to flip the script.
The 49ers are entering their second visit to Charlotte this season with 7 straight wins backing them up, including a dramatic 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers. Colin Kaepernick didn’t have a great day, but it was much better than his performance earlier this season against the Panthers, possibly the most abysmal of his career.
He was only 11-of-22 for 91 yards, intercepted once and sacked six times. The Panthers won 10-9 (Newton wasn’t having a big day as well), and held the 49ers to only 151 offensive yards. While trying to avoid running a lot during the season, Kaepernick did go for 98 yards on 7 carries against the Packers, and might be forced to rely on his legs and not his arms against the Panthers, hopefully avoiding the blitzing that ruined his game last time.
Both Newton and Kaepernick see a lot of pressure when they dropback – Kaepernick on 38.4% of the time, Newton on 39.6%. However, their ability get big plays out of this is quite different, with Kaepernick, enjoying a better crop of receivers to throw to, has thrown 13 touchdowns to one in interception when blitzed, while Newton has thrown 12 touchdown passes and intercepted 7 times.
The Panthers had the second-best defense in the NFL during the regular season, allowing only 301.2 yards and 15.1 points per game, while leading the NFL with 60 sacks. They’ll have to deal with Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick’s favorite target, who had a big day against the Packers, but possibly not Vernon Davis, who left the contest early with a concussion.
The Panthers have an offense of their own that shouldn’t be ignored, but held to 17 or fewer points in two of the past four games. Having Steve Smith back after missing the regular season finale against the Falcons due to a knee injury should help Newton post better numbers than he did in recent games, as the Panthers try and win for the eighth consecutive time at home.
Prediction – A very close one like before, but the Panthers have the kind of defense that will make Kaepernick look very bad, and not have it in him to win a second consecutive road game.