NFL Divisional Playoff: San Francisco 49ers vs Carolina Panthers

cam newtonThe San Francisco 49ers travel to Bank of America Stadium to face the NFC South champions, the Carolina Panthers, in the last of two NFC Divisional round playoff matchups (Sunday, 1:05pm ET on CBS).

The winner is guaranteed a spot in the NFC Championship game, something that should feel familiar to Jim Harbaugh’s California-based team.

Don’t Undervalue Playoff Experience

The Carolina Panthers will be making their first postseason appearance since 2008. You have to go back to 2005 for the last time they won a playoff game. Neither head coach Ron Rivera nor QB Cam Newton (pictured) were part of either team. In fact, of the Panthers roster, only a handful of players have postseason experience.

The San Francisco 49ers boast a roster full of players and coaches that have playoff experience, including returning most of the team that narrowly missed out on winning a Super Bowl last season.

Both Newton and Kaepernick have been in the league for three years and even though Newton has started in more regular season games, of the two, only Kaepernick has postseason experience. On Sunday, he will be making his fifth playoff start of the past two years and will be looking for his fourth career postseason victory.

There is something to be said for this even if Kaepernick will have the disadvantage of playing on the road. He knows what to prepare for and this situation, the crowds, the atmosphere and the expectations, none of it is new to him.

Also, Kaepernick has already made his first playoff start of 2013 and did so to a winning tune against the Green Bay Packers. Any rust he may have had or nerves were settled during that game. Newton on the other hand, hasn’t had a chance to do that.

Because the Panthers won their division and finished with a top two record in the NFC, they earned a bye last week. Sunday not only marks Newton’s first playoff start but it is also the first for the Panthers in 2013. Unfortunately for Carolina, Newton’s regular season did not exactly end on a positive note.

In the last four games of the season, Newton’s completion percentage was down below 60 and he only surpassed 200 yards through the air once. On the season as a whole, Newton posted some of his lowest single game numbers and only recorded over 275 yards. He was the only 16-game starting QB to do this.

As a former first round pick, there are a lot of expectations laid on Newton. He is the franchise QB and will be leading this team for the foreseeable future. At some point, he’ll have to prove he has what it takes to win a playoff game. 2013 is his first chance to make that impression and again, it could be a lot of pressure. If Newton can handle it, the Panthers will have a chance. Otherwise, Kaepernick, Harbaugh and the Niners experience is likely to win out.

Defensive Lockdowns Benefit Both Teams

Offensively, this is going to be a game between two teams that don’t really offer anything special. The 49ers rank just 11th in PPG (25.4) and the Panthers just 18th (22.9). Of the remaining eight playoff teams, these numbers are good enough for fourth lowest for the Niners and dead last for the Panthers. Neither team has been a scoring juggernaut this year but because of how tightened down their defenses have been, both teams managed to reach the playoffs and could be expected to thrive.

The Panthers and Niners respectively, were the second and third best regular season defenses in 2013, allowing opponents just 15.1 and 17 points per game. Only the Seattle Seahawks posted better defensive numbers.

This will be a defensive game for sure and both teams have shown success in low-scoring games this season. The Panthers, who it is also worth noting haven’t lost at home since week one, have been victorious in five of the seven games they played this season that were decided by less than 10 points including the 10-9 final against the 49ers. San Francisco was 4-2 in the same type of games including their three-point playoff victory over the Packers.

49ers vs Panthers Betting Picks

Part of the reason why the Panthers offense has been subpar this year is because of the injury to top receiver Steve Smith. While Smith has played all season, he has been a shell of his old self and relatively ineffective in the big moments. Second WR Ted Ginn Jr has actually put up better numbers as a big-game passing threat.

Smith is expected to play but according to his own account, is a little over 70% right now. It is unknown just how effective he will be able to be at under 100%. In order for the Panthers to win, not only do they need Smith to be involved in a larger capacity but they also need Newton to be spot on with his throws.

Meanwhile, the Niners enter this game at full health. They have the benefit of their entire offensive line, one of the strongest in the league, to contend with the front seven of Carolina. The big matchup here will be Luke Kuechly against Patrick Willis.

Protecting the QB will certainly be on Harbaugh’s mind as well as on the season, Carolina’s defense led the league with 60 sacks including six of which that came against Kaepernick when the teams met earlier this year.

  • The 49ers enter this game as between one and three-point favorites with the online sportsbooks. I do like the Panthers at home though. I think their defense will carry them through and I trust Newton to come up big in his playoff debut. BetOnline go Panthers +1pt @ odds of -110. However I would prefer to play a bit safer and take Carolina +3pts @ -135 with Bovada Sportsbook.
  • The total is at a relatively low 41.5 compared to the other three playoff games this weekend. I see the game staying under so go under 41.5 total points at odds of -115, again with Bovada. The alternative would be to go under 41pts at -110 with BetOnline.
  • For people from outside of the USA you can place these advised bets with Bet365 Bookmaker.

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