Carolina Panthers: Take the Next Step Toward Being Elite?

By Mark Wilson

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers have a chance to turn a few more heads with a win Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Panthers started the year off in disappointing fashion with a 1-3 record before going on an eight-game winning streak. During that streak they beat the same 49ers team they will be facing this weekend. That was then, this is now. The playoffs are where careers are made and shattered.

The 49ers are favorites on the road because they were the Super Bowl runner-ups last year, with relatively the same team. The Panthers are the upstarts in the NFC and most of their players have only enjoyed the playoff from the confines of their living room. But to think that the Panthers are just going to roll over and chalk it up to no experience, is crazy.

This will be a defensive, low scoring, knock-you-in-your-mouth football game. Both offenses can move the chains, but both defenses have the ability to put a stop to it. Case in point is the final score from their first meeting in Week 10, which was 10-9. I expect to see more of the same hard hitting that was in that game. There is much more at stake in the playoffs, so be prepared to see much emotion on the field Sunday.

Many wonder if Newton and the Panthers are mentally capable of pulling off the unthinkable and upsetting the 49ers. I guess those same people have not watched a Panthers’ game, Panthers’ highlight, or have even checked any statistical website all season. The 49ers are the trendy pick because of what they did last year in reaching the Super Bowl, but that was last year. The Panthers are hungry and have a chip on their shoulder like the 49ers had last year. The teams are similar: great defense, good running game, serviceable receivers, good special teams and an outstanding quarterback.

The only people that are not taking the Panthers record and No. 2 NFC seeding lightly are the 49ers. I predicted a Panthers and Denver Broncos Super Bowl match-up and the 49ers are in their way.

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