49ers vs. Panthers: Who Has The Edge In Key Positional Battles?
49ers vs. Panthers: Who has the Edge at 5 Key Positional Battles?
The San Francisco 49ers, fresh off the defeat of Green Bay, will travel east once again to play the Carolina Panthers. The 49ers showed the nation why the team is one of the best in the country when San Francisco stormed back in the fourth quarter to defeat the team's historic rival. Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree were on the same page for the first time this season in the battle at Lambeau, and the two key offensive weapons will look to be in-sync once again when the 49ers meet the Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs. The 49ers clearly belong in the playoffs, but can the team make a return trip to the Super Bowl?
Good defenses have been the 49ers' kryptonite this season, and Carolina was no exception. The 49ers' low point this season was the game against the Panthers when the team only managed to produce nine points against the stout defense of Carolina. Kaepernick suffered the worst performance of his career when he played Carolina in Week 10, but the good news for 49ers fans is that he was without the services of Crabtree and Vernon Davis. The Panthers have come out of nowhere this year and now pose a threat to the 49ers' playoff lives, so which team will punch their ticket into championship weekend?
Even in a year where the read-option has essentially been stamped out, Kaepernick and Cam Newton have solidified their place among the league's elite. These two young quarterbacks have both been on hot streaks since the middle of the season and come into this game playing the best football of their young careers. The quarterback battle is just one of many that will decide the outcome of this game, but who has the edge in this battle of dual-threat QBs?
While a trip to the Super Bowl is on the horizon for the winner, the loser will have to stew about what could have been for an entire offeseason. Who will step up when their team needs them the most? What will happen when two of the hottest teams in the NFL collide in Carolina?
Greg Douglas is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on twitter @thegpd93 or add him to your Google Network.
Kaepernick has rebounded nicely after playing through the dreaded sophomore slump. He is now playing like the quarterback that led the 49ers to the Super Bowl last season, but can he keep up his phenomenal play against the Panthers' defense? Kaepernick has amassed over 3,700 total yards and 25 touchdowns this season, but it is his playoff mentality that makes him an even bigger threat in this game. Kaepernick is already among one of the best rushing quarterbacks in playoff history, but can he allude the Panthers and scramble his way to a win?
Many questioned if Newton was a franchise quarterback before the season started, and he has stepped up to the plate and answered those questions this season. Newton has racked up over 3,900 total yards and 30 touchdowns this season, but it is his ability to manage games this season that has the Panthers where they are. Newton is still a playmaker, but he has been less reckless this season, and that has only increased his effectiveness at the quarterback position.
Edge: Colin Kaepernick (49ers). It is a toss-up as to who has more talent between these two, but Kaepernick has the edge mentally and emotionally. Kaepernick has been to a Super Bowl and this will mark Newton's first playoff game -- that could have a big impact in this game.
Running Back Battle
Frank Gore provides more value than his numbers indicate. He has rushed over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns this season, but his value comes in his volume of touches. Gore carries the team on the ground, and his battering ram mentality helps the 49ers get every yard possible. The 49ers leaned on Gore to carry the load in the first battle with Carolina, but will he be able to produce another big day?
Carolina's backfield features several backs that all have different skill sets. While Mike Tolbert is a bowling ball of a runner and just runs over people, DeAngelo Williams provides the speed and elusiveness the other backs lack. The 49ers rank fourth in the league against the rush and allow under 96 yards a game, but can the backfield of Carolina find a hole in the powerful front of the 49ers?
Edge: Frank Gore (49ers). Gore has been consistent in the second half of the season and has already had success once against Carolina.
Wide Receiver Battle
Michael Crabtree is a playoff beast. The wide receiver has had some of the best games of his career in the playoffs, including last week's performance at Green Bay. Kaepernick's go-to guy did not play in the first matchup between these two teams this season, and his insertion into the lineup has propelled Kaepernick to big numbers the second half of the season. The 49ers' receiving game also features perennial pro-bowlers Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.
Carolina's passing game centers around veteran wide receiver Steve Smith. Smith has been with the Panthers his whole career and is one of the few players left from Carolina's last playoff team, but will his injury linger and cause the Panthers to stumble? Ted Ginn has emerged this season and become one of Cam's favorite targets, but will his playoff inexperience play a factor in this game?
Edge: 49ers. San Francisco has the more proven targets, and Smith's injury will plague the Panthers' passing attack.
The 49ers defense has become more hype than substance in the past few weeks. The defense allowed over 400 passing yards to Carson Palmer and allowed Aaron Rodgers to come back from a bad start. The 49ers have been great at stopping the run, but have struggled at times to stop the pass. San Francisco's defense ranks seventh against the pass and fourth against the run, but will the secondary step up in this big game?
The Panthers' defense went from one of the worst in the league last year to one of the best this year. The Panthers rank sixth against the pass and second against the run, but will Carolina be able to shutdown Gore this time around? The defense is anchored by Luke Kuechly, who has become one of the best at his position in the league.
Edge: Panthers. The Panthers' defense is what won the team the game the first time around, and Carolina's defense has been the more consistent out of the two.
Special Teams Battle
The 49ers' special teams play has rose from the ashes this season, and now possess one of the better units in the NFL. Phil Dawson's experience and consistency makes him lethal down the stretch, and the quickness of LaMichael James makes him capable of breaking a big return.
The Panthers' special teams is led by Ted Ginn, who has morphed into a receiving threat this year but still had success in what kept him in the league for years: the return game. Ginn is quick and has the ability to take it to the house any time he gets his hands on the ball. Carolina has struggled at times in the red zone, but Graham Gano has been almost automatic from a reasonable distance.
Edge: 49ers. The 49ers' turnaround this season on special teams is almost unbelievable. The kicking game could prove to be the difference in this game, and Phil Dawson has been clutch this season.
Prediction: 49ers win by 10. The 49ers are on a six-game winning streak and are rolling toward the Super Bowl. The 49ers simply have too many playmakers and the team will impose its will on the Panthers.