Coming off of their first win ever at bone-chilling Lambeau Field, the San Francisco 49ers are riding with their chins held high on their way to North Carolina for a rematch of Week 10. The 49ers have not forgotten the one-point loss they suffered to the Carolina Panthers in the regular season on their home turf. This is the 49ers’ opportunity for revenge.
The 49ers have gotten Michael Crabtree back from his Achilles injury and will have Vernon Davis for this game, who exited the game in Week 10 with a concussion. Having these two is huge for the San Fran passing game and Colin Kaepernick, who only had 91 yards through the air and threw the game-sealing interception.
The NFC South champion Carolina Panthers are coming off of a well-deserved bye week after wrapping up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Panthers have to be feeling confident heading into this game, having already beaten the 49ers 10-9 in San Francisco.
The Panthers are arguably the hottest team in the NFL this season, and what is incredible is that they have sustained that hot streak nearly all year. Carolina finished their season 11-1 after a 1-3 start. Ron Rivera, whose firing was being called for by fans after the rough start, should be in consideration for Coach of the Year.
This game will be a defensive struggle much like the last meeting between these two very similarly built teams. Both of these teams lean heavily on their running game, so stopping the run will be a huge factor. Whichever team makes the other one dimensional, will have the best chance at winning, as neither of these young quarterbacks have proven they can consistently lead their team to wins. Leading a comeback win in the 4th quarter is one thing, but having the game on your shoulders for four quarters is another thing.
Escaping pressure is something that these young quarterbacks will both have to do well, as these defenses will be head-hunting for quarterbacks on any obvious passing down. Keeping the QB in the pocket is something that both of these defensive coordinators will have to focus on, and the best way to do so is to collapse the pocket so these young athletic quarterbacks will have nowhere to run to.
Some may argue that defense no longer wins championships, but it will win this game.