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NFC Divisional Round Predictions: Déjà Vu?

NFC Divisional Round Predictions: Déjà Vu?

Jan 10, 2014

Game Information: Carolina Panthers vs. San Francisco 49ers @ Bank of America Stadium (CAR) on Sunday (Jan 12th, 2014) @ 1:05pm EST, TV: FOX.

Injury report (via ESPN, updated on Jan. 10th- click here for updated results)-

Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith (WR) Questionable with a knee injury.

San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Rodgers (CB) Questionable with a hamstring injury.

Previous matchups: 10-9 Carolina Panthers won- Week 10


Keys to the game:

Carolina Panthers: Pressure Colin Kaepernick to make tough passing decisions.

San Francisco 49ers: Disguise the running game and make the defense think twice about blitzing.

Game Analysis: Two months ago The Carolina Panthers traveled cross country to face the 49ers in a defensive game of skill and wits. After the first half the 49ers led the Panthers by two points. In a game where points were hard to come by these two points meant more than usual, as the third quarter would end with neither team scoring. Finally the fourth quarter started and Carolina marched right the down field kicking a field goal to take a one-point lead. After that, there were many punts from both teams as the defensive battle perused. In the final minutes Drayton Florence’s Interception would end the 49ers hopes and keep Carolina’s winning streak going.

The game on this upcoming Sunday should be very similar to the previous meeting between these two teams. Both teams come into this game with great defenses, which means we should expect another low scoring affair. The Carolina Panthers are sixth against pass and second against the run, while the 49ers are seventh against the pass and fourth against the run. As for the offenses of these two teams neither is amazing but both teams have a better running than passing game. Another thing both of these teams have in common is the ability to run a very effective read-option playbook. This read-option can make defenses think twice about blitzing when used correctly.

As we dig deeper into this game we notice how important the injury reports are for both teams. While Carolina could be missing their star receiver Steve Smith on Sunday, the 49ers could be missing their star cornerback: Carlos Rogers. Both of these athletes have a significant impact on their teams and on the outcome of this game. Carlos Rogers is the 49ers number-one cornerback, which means he is usually matched up on the other team’s top receiver. The Carolina Panthers go to guy and best wideout is Steve Smith, which means he will be open 24/7 if Carlos Rogers can’t go on Sunday. On the flip side if Steve Smith misses this game (unlikely but you never know) Carolina will have a very hard time passing the ball. Carolina’s other receiving options would be limited to: Greg Olson (a tight end technically), Ted Ginn Jr. , Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon. None of these receivers are deep threats or demand double coverage like Steve Smith does for the Carolina Panthers. As the game gets closer we have a better idea if Steve Smith or Carlos Rogers will be playing on Sunday.

As I said in the beginning of this article, these teams like to run more than pass. This doesn’t bode well as both of these defenses play great against the run than the pass. This gives the offense two options: run more passing plays or disguise the running game with trickery. Look for both teams to use a lot end-arounds, reversals and screens to make the defense second-guess the run. These kinds of plays will make defenses hold off on the blitz. This is where Carolina has the slight edge needed to win this game; Cam Newton unlike most quarterbacks succeeds against the blitz. He has a 60.9% completion rate against blitzes, which is 9% higher than when teams don’t blitz him. The Panthers are also one of the better screen teams with quick guys like Ted Ginn Jr. and tough guys like Olsen and Tolbert.

On the other hand the 49ers are a team that isn’t built to play well against the blitz. Whereas Cam Newton plays better against the blitz, the same can’t be said for Colin Kaepernick. His completion rate against the blitz is 54.9% which is almost 20% lower than when he is faced with no blitz. With pass rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson leading the way look for this San Francisco O-line to breakdown with Kaepernick to be down on the ground a lot. Keep in mind, a blitz doesn’t have to result in sack to be successful just make the quarterback think twice about his decisions.

In the end Carolina’s defense will be too much for the 49ers to handle and Carolina will keep their win streak going, making it four in a row. With Carolina continuing on the NFC championship round they will most likely be facing the Seahawks in the loudest place on Earth. Many say that defense wins championships we will see who has the better defense on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers or the San Francisco 49ers.

Score Prediction: 13-10 Carolina Panthers win. 


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