NFL Carolina PanthersSan Francisco 49ers

2014 NFL Playoffs: 5 Key Matchups in Panthers vs. 49ers Game

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5 Key Matchups in Panthers vs. 49ers Game

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With the San Francisco 49ers' win over the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round, they earned a rematch with the Carolina Panthers next week. In Week 10, the Panthers won the first meeting out by the bay in a 10-9 hard-nosed battle. The win was one of the key victories that led to the Panthers earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs. With a trip to the conference championship on the line, what will be in store for round two?

San Francisco will be riding a six-game winning streak when it travels to Carolina. It is playing as well as anyone right now, and is a major contender to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the second straight year. The 49ers have been on the losing side of the ledger just four times this season, but if they are going to be the team coming out of the NFC, they will have to go through the teams that have beat them already. If San Fran is able to get past Carolina, it would either face the New Orleans Saints, who beat them in Week 11, or have a rubber match with the Seattle Seahawks, who beat them way back in Week 2.

This will be Carolina's first playoff game since 2008. That season it was also the No. 2 seed, but was one-and-done, losing to the eventual NFC Champ Arizona Cardinals. How will Carolina fare this time around under a new head coach and quarterback?

The first meeting between these teams saw both offenses get shut down. The defenses each forced two turnovers and the rematch figures to see more of the same. One change that San Francisco will welcome is the weather, where it is forecasted to be in the 50s, a far cry from the conditions in Green Bay. With a trip to the conference championship on the line, here are five key matchups to keep an eye out for.

Nick Schaeflein is a sports writer for Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Ron Rivera vs. Jim Harbaugh

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Many may forget that these two coaches are former teammates from their time with the Chicago Bears. They are both defensive-minded coaches. Having already met once this year, you can best be sure that many nights are being spent in the film room and adjustments will be made to the game plan. The coach able to strategize the best will be moving on in the playoffs.

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4. Steve Smith vs. Michael Crabtree

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Steve Smith sat out of the Panthers' last game with an injury, but he says that he will be playing this week. Michael Crabtree is coming off a game where he had 8 catches for 125 yards in the Wild Card round. With big plays potentially at a premium, the wide out that is able to get free the most will play a huge factor.

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3. Frank Gore vs. Carolina Defense

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Gore had 66 yards and a touchdown last week. In Week 10, he was also able to rip off 82 yards against the Panthers. Having a running game will control the clock and move the chains for San Fran. Having Gore on track is the old-school mindset Harbaugh likes to see in trying to continue the playoff run.

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2. Panthers Running Game vs. 49ers Defense

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On the flip side, Carolina also will put a major focus on the ground game. The Panthers potentially have a four-headed attack with Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all possibly getting touches. In the first meeting, they only managed 109 yards on the ground, but it was enough as Williams scored the only touchdown of the game from 27 yards out. Can Carolina find enough success a second time around?

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1. Cam Newton vs. Colin Kaepernick

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Cam Newton will be making his first career playoff start, where as Colin Kaepernick is playing in his fifth postseason game. They are both dual-threat quarterbacks who can do it with their arm and legs. Both guys will easily be the focal point for the opposing defenses. Kaepernick made several plays with his legs against the Packers to set up that victory. Both struggled in the first meeting, but the quarterback that is able to make the most plays, either by air or ground, will be preparing for the NFC Championship.