banner

NFL

more stats

NFL Playoff Preview - San Francisco (13-4) at Carolina (12-4)



By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Given their status as defending conference champions, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera noted that the San Francisco 49ers are the measuring stick of the NFC.

If that is the case, Rivera's Panthers have to feel pretty good about this Sunday's divisional round matchup at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers have won four straight and eight of their last 10 overall against the 49ers, though this contest will mark the first between the clubs in the playoffs.

Still, Carolina owns two wins at home and on the road during this series winning streak and outlasted the Niners 10-9 in a defensive struggle in San Francisco back on Nov. 10.

The two teams combined for just 401 total yards and went 9-for-30 on 3rd-down attempts. There was also a total of 10 sacks in the game, six for Carolina, and each team had two turnovers.

It was a predictable style of football given the Panthers finished this season ranked second in the NFL in total defense, run defense and points allowed per game, and sixth versus the pass.

The 49ers were just as solid, ranking fifth in total defense, fourth against the run, seventh versus the pass and third in points allowed.

That win for the Panthers came during an eight-game win streak as Carolina won 11 of 12 after starting the season 1-3 to win the NFC South for the fourth time. It wasn't easy, though, and Carolina still needed a 21-20 road win over Atlanta in Week 17 to wrap up the division and get a first-round bye.

"For reasons we all know, having home-field advantage is very exciting," said Panthers Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton. "We're going to need our fans more than anything. I don't think our fans get a lot of credit for the support that they give us.

"We're hopefully going to put up a good performance."

The locals have reason to be excited about this team under Rivera, who has improved the club to records of 6-10, 7-9 and then 12-4 this season following a 2-14 mark in 2010. That has Carolina back in the postseason for the first time since 2008.

"When I got here (in 2011), I told the guys what the vision was ... the vision to win Super Bowls. That's how I feel," said Rivera. "I think we have the beginnings of a good football team. I think we've done some really good things and put ourselves in position to be where we are. This is not an accident."

They bye paid off in the injury department as both wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart -- two of just nine players left from the '08 playoff team -- are ready to return from injury.

Smith missed Week 17 with a knee injury, while Stewart stat out the final four games of the regular season with a knee issue after missing the first seven contests of the season because of a foot injury.

Despite matching Carolina's 12-4 record in the regular season, the Niners entered the postseason as a wild card club and needed to best the hosting Green Bay Packers 23-20 last Sunday to advance.

In the bitter cold, the 49ers rallied from four points down in the fourth quarter to go ahead on Colin Kaepernick's 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis early in the frame.

Green Bay got a game-tying field goal from Mason Crosby with 5:06 to play, but Phil Dawson booted San Francisco into the next round with a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

"It is right now," Dawson said when asked if it was the biggest kick of his 15-year career. "I've waited a long time to win a playoff game."

Kaepernick used his arm and legs to beat the Packers, throwing for 227 yards and rushing for another 98 yards on seven carries.

"It was amazing to get the win today," Kaepernick said. "We came back, we fought, we played hard."

With the victory, the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh became the first coach to win 13-or- more games, including the playoffs, in his first three seasons since the 1970 merger.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

As is the case with most NFL games, a lot of focus will be on the quarterbacks and this matchup features two players drafted in 2011 with some similar tendencies.

Newton, the top pick of that draft, continued to show growth on the field and set a new career high with 24 touchdown passes while getting intercepted just 13 times. He is the only quarterback in league history to have 50-plus passing and 25-plus rushing touchdowns over his first three seasons and his 2,032 rushing yards are the most ever by a QB in his first three seasons.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, joined Steve Young as the only quarterbacks in San Francisco history to have at least 3,000 passing and 500 rushing yards in a single season and the second-round pick had 21 touchdown passes to eight interceptions this season.

While Kaepernick noted this week that the players do have some similarities, Newton steered away from comparisons and noted they are two different players.

"I'm a fan of him, but I don't have to prepare for Kaepernick. I'm more worried about trying to prepare for (49ers linebackers) NaVarro Bowman, Patrick Willis and those stout defensive lineman they have," said Newton.

Neither quarterback performed well in the earlier meeting this season -- Newton threw for 169 yards and ran for just 15; Kaepernick was limited to 16 yards rushing, 91 yards throwing and was sacked six times -- but Kaepernick does come in with the playoff experience edge.

The 26-year-old has a career postseason passer rating of 93.9 and the Niners are 13-0 when he starts and posts a rating of 100 or better.

Kaepernick's goal will be avoiding a defense that put him on the ground a lot back in November. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards sacked him twice, defensive end Charles Johnson was credited with 1 1/2 sacks and stud middle linebacker Luke Kuechly also had a sack.

Interestingly, none of the sacks were registered by defensive end Greg Hardy, who had a club single-game record of four sacks in Week 17 versus Atlanta and matched Kevin Greene's 1998 team record of 15 sacks in a season.

Hardy's play this season helped Carolina tie a 1996 team record of 60 sacks this season, the most in the NFL. Nine of those came versus the Falcons.

And even though he didn't get to Kaepernick last time, the Niners know they have to keep an eye on Hardy.

"Greg Hardy is big, real athletic guy, real slippery," San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said. "When it seems like he's getting blocked, he finds a way to get off blocks and make plays."

Two big differences for the 49ers offense this weekend will be the presence of wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Davis.

Davis suffered a concussion in the second quarter versus the Panthers, depriving Kaepernick of one of his top targets. The tight end caught 13 of Kaepernick's touchdown passes this season and has six career postseason touchdowns. That is tied for the second most by a tight end in NFL history, behind Oakland's Dave Caper's seven.

Davis has gone over 100 yards receiving in four of his six postseason games.

Crabtree, meanwhile, did not make his season debut until Week 13 due to a torn Achilles and made eight catches for 125 yards versus the Packers. His performance also earned some high praise from Harbaugh.

"People talked about cold weather and it being tough to catch balls, but the greatest catcher of all time, Michael Crabtree, catches everything. It's unbelievable," he said postgame.

Harbaugh didn't back off on the kind words on Monday either.

"He catches the football," the coach said of his receiver. "A lot of people talk about different things for receivers, 40-times or three-cones, how fast they run around the little orange cones etcetera, but pretty darn important to catch the ball for a receiver. I just have never personally seen anybody catch the ball better than Michael Crabtree does."

The Panthers have a solid playmaker on their roster in Smith, who was second on the club with 64 catches and 745 yards to go along with four touchdowns.

And though Carolina did not have a 1,000-yard receiver, six players caught at least 26 passes and seven hauled in a scoring pass from Newton.

It was the same approach to the 11th-ranked ground game, where DeAngelo Williams led the way with 843 yards and three touchdowns, Newton ranked second with 585 yards with six rushing scores and fullback Mike Tolbert ran for five touchdowns and caught another two.

"One thing about this stage is that it's not going to be about me," Newton said. "There are a lot of guys that play an integral part in the things that go on behind the stage so to speak."

Kuechly and fellow linebacker Thomas Davis are two players that are integral to the defense. The duo combined for 179 tackles and six sacks and were the only linebacker combo this season to both log at least 120 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.

Hardy, meanwhile, has 24 sacks in his last 25 games.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Given the similar blueprints to how the teams run, the biggest difference going into Sunday's matchup postseason experience.

"Our guys have done this before. It isn't the first time they have done this. Onward now," said Harbaugh after the Green Bay game.

Newton is doing his best to shake off the lack of experience talk and both he and Rivera have mentioned that they fell the Panthers have been playing postseason football for weeks thanks to the slow start and tight race in the NFC, one that saw the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals not make the playoffs.

"(Less playoff experience) doesn't mean anything. We're all playing on a clean slate as far as playoff preparation. To be honest, this is similar to the games we've played all season, must-have wins," said the Panthers quarterback.

Then there is the fact that the Panthers have already bested the Niners once this season.

"I think one thing it did help is that San Francisco is a very physical football team and we were able to play with them and win the game. I think that really helped instill a little bit of confidence as to the type of football team we can be. They are the measuring stick of the NFC because they're the defending NFC champs," said Rivera.

Just like Newton can't worry about making his playoff debut, the Niners aren't likely to come in worried about mimicking the earlier loss. While it could once again prove to be a defensive test, the additions of Davis and Crabtree to the mix should tilt the field in San Francisco's favor.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 20, Panthers 16

01/09 15:07:50 ET

Other Stories

  • NFL: Panthers vs. Cleveland

    Today at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: Indianapolis at Dallas

    Today at 4:25 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Sun Bowl: Duke vs. Arizona State

    Saturday at 2:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: Panthers vs Cleveland

    Today at 1:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

  • WCBB: Duke vs. Kentucky

    Today at 3:00 pm on 620am

  • NHL: Hurricanes at NY Rangers

    Tonight at 7:00 on 99.9 The Fan

  • CBB: Louisiana Tech at NC State

    Tuesday at 7:00 pm on WRAL-FM

Scoreboard
Local
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
Final
MVSU 60
NCCU 94
 
Final
UNCW 66
ECU 54
Final
CAR 2
NYR 3
Final
CHA 104
UTA 86
Final
WVU 83
NCSU 69
1:00pm Today
CAR
CLE
7:00pm Tonight
NYR
CAR
 
Final
NYK 90
PHO 99
Final
NOP 88
POR 114
Final
CHA 104
UTA 86
Final
HOU 97
ATL 104
Final
DAL 99
SAN 93
Final
DEN 76
IND 73
Final
LAC 106
MIL 102
3:30pm Today
TOR
NYK
 
4:30pm Today
CLE
MEM
 
6:00pm Tonight
MIA
BOS
 
6:00pm Tonight
BRK
DET
 
6:00pm Tonight
SAC
LAL
 
6:00pm Tonight
ORL
PHI
 
6:00pm Tonight
WAS
PHO
 
7:00pm Tonight
MIN
IND
 
7:00pm Tonight
OKC
NOP
 
Final
LALAF 16
NEV 3
Final
UTEP 6
UTST 21
Final
COLST 10
UTAH 45
Final
AFA 38
WMICH 24
Final
BGU 33
SALABAMA 28
Final
GEOR 81
CHAR 78
Final
WKENT 67
LOU 76
Final
MICH 51
SMU 62
Final
CIN 47
VCU 68
Final
BSU 77
ABCHRIST 33
 
Final
PROV 85
UMASS 65
Final
AMER 46
MNTER 45
 
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
Final
IUPUI 71
SALA 65
 
Final
VILL 82
SYR 77
Final
VT 64
CITA 61
Final
DUQ 79
MLOWELL 63
 
Final
FAIR 61
BEL 73
 
Final
YALE 60
GTDNS 64
 
Final
FD 76
DEL 74
 
Final
PSU 73
DREX 68
Final
UNCG 64
ELON 71
 
Final
ILL 62
MIZZ 59
Final
CAMP 90
MONT 64
 
Final
LONG 106
PSUBEAVER 74
 
Final
HOU 63
SCST 71
 
Final
FSU 75
SFLA 62
Final
BING 51
BONA 69
 
Final
RUTG 68
RFLSH 73
 
Final
MCNST 69
TOL 83
 
Final
JVU 84
TRUETT 55
 
Final
GT 65
VANDY 60
Final
INDST 56
EILL 60
 
Final
BUT 73
IND 82
Final
STEPH 94
ARTCH 57
 
Final
OREG 83
DELST 70
 
Final
Terriers 61
FATL 56
 
Final
TXARL 89
HPYN 50
 
Final
KU 96
LAF 69
Final
ARKST 67
MARS 58
Final
MEM 78
ORU 63
Final
KNST 53
UMBC 66
 
Final
NW 67
WMICH 61
Final
MIZST 65
EMICH 77
 
Final
CHIST 77
STJOE 54
 
Final
KENT 83
UCLA 44
Final
COC 68
DAVID 80
Final
RIU 69
DET 55
Final
UCR 78
HOUB 67
 
Final
MURST 89
ILLST 77
 
Final
NWST 89
LALAF 85
 
Final
WAGN 66
MON 74
 
Final
MVSU 60
NCCU 94
 
Final
PITT 81
OU 77
Final
TENNM 77
PBY 60
 
Final
WYO 57
SOUTH 39
 
Final
AFA 75
UCD 81
Final
MSST 51
USCU 53
 
Final
JMU 71
HIGH 80
 
Final
TXST 90
HTILL 56
 
Final
DRAK 54
ISU 83
Final
SHU 73
UNH 60
 
Final
SCU 72
NE 78
 
Final
MSU 64
TXSOU 71
Final
UF 63
WAKE 50
Final
ND 94
PURD 63
Final
SHSU 61
PVU 44
 
Final
AUB 89
XAV 88
Final
AKR 92
BLUFFTON 53
 
Final
DAY 78
BU 62
 
Final
UNCW 66
ECU 54
Final
CLMB 82
HOF 77
 
Final
GMAS 86
IONA 81
Final
TOWS 53
LAS 67
Final
MAN 73
MRGST 69
 
Final
CCST 76
YALE 84
 
Final
PEPP 63
RICH 65
Final
MAR 58
STJOE 75
Final
KYST 71
TEXAM 64
Final
MAST 72
VALPO 75
 
Final
UMKC 104
INCWORD 110
 
Final
IDST 50
CALST 59
 
Final
NIOWA 56
IOWA 44
Final
SIUE 61
UWMIL 56
 
Final
TEX 78
LBSU 68
Final
TCU 88
TXSA 57
Final
ARK 84
SEMIZ 67
Final
NCOL 69
JVST 60
 
Final
ARST 81
LEH 84
 
Final
NMST 67
NMU 69
 
Final
WASH 69
OKLA 67
Final
GRCN 81
STED 55
 
Final
WEBER 73
WLVRN 61
 
Final
WVU 83
NCSU 69
Final
SDST 70
BST 57
Final
GONZ 63
CPSL 50
Final
PAC 71
FRES 68
 
Final
PORT 87
MNTST 60
 
Final
CSNO 68
TAMCC 75
 
Final
UTST 65
SDKST 68
 
Final
BYU 79
STAN 77
2nd
UNLV 46
UTAH 57
 
12:00pm Today
UVA
HARV
 
1:00pm Today
BGU
FERST
 
1:00pm Today
ARMY
MAINE
 
1:00pm Today
QUIN
ORST
 
1:00pm Today
CLST
USF
 
1:30pm Today
CARK
CCAR
 
2:00pm Today
UWGB
ARKLR
 
2:00pm Today
RAD
CORN
 
2:00pm Today
UNT
CREI
 
2:00pm Today
CAN
HC
 
2:00pm Today
USB
GHND
 
2:00pm Today
OKST
MD
 
2:00pm Today
WINT
REIN
 
2:00pm Today
UGST
SMISS
 
2:00pm Today
NEOM
TXPA
 
2:00pm Today
STLU
VERM
 
2:00pm Today
UNCA
WCU
 
2:05pm Today
EVAN
ALAST
 
2:30pm Today
HART
FIU
 
2:35pm Today
VALPO
GOSHEN
 
3:00pm Today
LIP
PEAY
 
3:00pm Today
DEN
BRY
 
3:00pm Today
MONT
SD
 
3:00pm Today
MTST
TENST
 
3:00pm Today
SAMF
LAMON
 
3:30pm Today
SCAR
COKR
 
4:00pm Today
HAMP
NARZ
 
4:00pm Today
SDU
SDCHR
 
4:00pm Today
BC
USC
 
4:30pm Today
NICST
TROY
 
4:30pm Today
BRAD
UCI
 
6:00pm Tonight
UGA
SHU
 
6:30pm Tonight
ALA
APP
 
7:00pm Tonight
KSU
NDST
 
7:00pm Tonight
WASU
SJST
 
9:00pm Tonight
UTEP
ALCOR
 
10:00pm Tonight
SEAT
SACST
 
Final
LOS 4
ARI 2
Final
CLB 3
CHI 2
Final
BUF 1
COL 5
Final
PIT 3
FLA 1
Final
CAR 2
NYR 3
Final
MON 4
OTT 1
Final
TOR 4
PHI 7
Final
NYI 3
TAM 1
Final
NJD 0
WAS 4
Final
MIN 5
NAS 6
Final
VAN 3
CAL 2
Final
SJS 3
STL 2
6:00pm Tonight
DET
COL
 
6:00pm Tonight
EDM
DAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
BOS
BUF
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYR
CAR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHI
TOR
 
9:00pm Tonight
WIN
PHI
 
Final
WAS 27
PHI 24
Final
SFX 35
SDC 38
1:00pm Today
NOS
ATL
1:00pm Today
HOU
BAL
1:00pm Today
CAR
CLE
1:00pm Today
CHI
DET
1:00pm Today
TAM
GBP
1:00pm Today
PIT
KAN
1:00pm Today
MIA
MIN
1:00pm Today
NYJ
NEP
4:05pm Today
STL
NYG
4:25pm Today
OAK
BUF
4:25pm Today
DAL
IND
8:30pm Tonight
ARI
SEA