The San Francisco 49ers hit the road for the second week in a row for an NFC divisional-round matchup against the Carolina Panthers. The two NFC heavyweights will get the action kicked off at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 12, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
The 49ers (12-4) were beaten at home 10-9 by the Panthers back in Week 10. It was a defensive struggle in which Carolina shut the 49ers down to their lowest offensive output of the 2013 season (151 yards).
Therefore, it wasn't surprising when quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a message for the Panthers after his team beat the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round, as relayed by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee:
Colin Kaepernick on traveling to Carolina: "We owe 'em."— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) January 6, 2014
Kaepernick isn't the only one talking a bit of trash before the game, however. Carolina's Greg Hardy recently spoke about the upcoming rematch, hearkening back to the quarterback's poor outing, via ESPN.com's David Newton:
Sucks for him. Should have played better. Hope he comes Sunday. Anybody that goes against me is going to have a bad day. I'm a really, really angry person. I've got a bad attitude. So, it's one of those things, you know.
Clearly these two teams already have their game faces on.
Carolina (12-4) earned a first-round bye—thanks to that win, in fact—and the No. 2 seed in the NFC. This will be the first playoff game for many of the young players on the team's roster, which could be a factor in the outcome—especially in light of San Francisco's playoff experience.
That said, anything can happen on game day. With that in mind, here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with injury reports, analysis and a final prediction for this divisional matchup.
When: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 1:10 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 41.5 points
- Spread: Carolina (+1)
|Name||Position||Injury||Practice Status||Game Status|
|Jonathan Goodwin||C||Not injury-related||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Dan Skuta||LB||Foot||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Demarcus Dobbs||DT||Knee/Shoulder||Limited Participation in Practice||--|
|Frank Gore||RB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Justin Smith||DT||Shoulder||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Michael Crabtree||WR||Wrist||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Carlos Rogers||CB||Hamstring||Did Not Participate In Practice||--|
|Navorro Bowman||LB||Wrist||Full Participation in Practice||--|
How Will Steve Smith's Injury Effect Carolina?
Carolina's Steve Smith will be playing at less than 100 percent. He's been dealing with an ailing knee since Dec. 22, and he suffered a setback during Thursday's practice, as detailed by Jim Corbett of USA TODAY and David Newton of ESPN:
Steve Smith was limited in practice. Ron Rivera, "He's not his normal self...he was a little sore this morning." Smoothness not there yet— Jim Corbett (@ByJimCorbett) January 9, 2014
Steve Smith says today didn't go as well as he hoped. He downgraded self from 71 percent to 57 percent. #panthers— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) January 9, 2014
Smith will certainly give it a go on Sunday, but it's not looking like he'll be able to perform at the levels we're used to seeing when he's healthy.
Carolina struggled to generate any semblance of a passing game in Week 17 against the Atlanta Falcons without him in the lineup. Cam Newton hit on 15 of 27 attempts for 149 yards, though he did throw two touchdowns to go along with his interception.
The Panthers couldn't get anything going on the perimeter with their wide receivers, as Domenik Hixon led all receivers with two catches for 16 yards. The leading pass-catchers on the day were running back DeAngelo Williams (two catches, 75 yards) and tight end Greg Olsen (six catches, 42 yards, one touchdown).
In the first matchup between San Francisco and Carolina, Newton struggled to find his receivers. He hit half his passes, throwing 16-of-32 for 169 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Smith was his leading receiver in the game with six catches for 63 yards (on 11 targets).
If the veteran receiver isn't able to produce, then the Panthers will be hard-pressed to score enough points to win against San Francisco's relentless defense.
Panthers fans looking for a repeat performance from Kaepernick and the 49ers will be sorely disappointed.
The 49ers enter the game as the hottest team left in the playoffs, having won seven games in a row since losing to Seattle in Week 11. This team got healthy at just the right time, with Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith both coming on strong down the home stretch.
For this reason, among others, 10 of Bleacher Reports's panel of 12 experts gave San Francisco the edge to win the game, as Knox Bardeen highlights:
The 49ers might be playing better football than anyone in the NFL right now. The Panthers are playing well too, and give them a ton of credit for beating the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 10. But that was before the Niners defense really jelled and before wide receiver Michael Crabtree returned to the team.
Crabtree caught eight passes for 125 yards against Green Bay a week ago—his second 100-yard game in three weeks—and Vernon Davis came down with a clutch 28-yard touchdown on a laser shot from Kaepernick.
Who you got?
Both of them were unavailable for the first game (Davis suffered a concussion in the second quarter), and San Francisco's offense has flourished since Crabtree's return in early December.
Carolina's defense is undeniably formidable, but so is San Francisco's. When it comes to which team has the best offense at this time, the edge is clearly in favor of the 49ers.
49ers win, 24-13.
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