Two of the hottest teams in the NFL will face off in Week 10 as the San Francisco 49ers host the Carolina Panthers. Both franchises are riding winning streaks (49ers five in a row, Panthers four in row) in which they have scored over 30 points in each of those victories. The 49ers will be welcoming back some familiar (and new) faces to the lineup. Will it be enough to hold off the surging Panthers?
The Panthers are one of seven current NFL franchises that the 49ers have a record below .500 against (7-10). You would have to go all the way back to 2001 to find the last time San Francisco came out on top in a matchup against Carolina. The teams were in the same division back then (the last year that was the case) and the 49ers won both games. In Week 4, San Francisco rode three Chris Weinke interceptions and two Terrell Owens touchdown receptions to a 24-14 win. In Week 10, the 49ers needed a field goal from Jose Cortez in overtime to beat a Panthers’ team that ultimately finished 1-15 that season. Jeff Garcia threw three touchdown passes in the game (two of them to J.J. Stokes) and Garrison Hearst paced the rushing attack with 92 yards. The 49ers would go on to have their best season in the Jeff Garcia era, finishing 12-4.
The most recent game between the two was a little less memorable. The 49ers were floundering under Mike Singletary when they faced off with the winless Panthers in Week 7 of 2010. San Francisco dropped the game 23-20 as Alex Smith and David Carr combined to go 14-of-32 for 196 yards. Frank Gore gained 102 yards on the ground but Matt Moore and his 308 yards passing was too much for the 49ers to overcome. The next week would begin the short lived Troy Smith era for the 49ers and Singletary would be fired before the season ended.
Players to watch
The 49ers have activated a who’s who of players since they last took the field in Week 8 and all eyes will be focused on how they perform and what role they will have. San Francisco desperately needs help at wide receiver and Mario Manningham should be able to provide a spark opposite Anquan Boldin. It remains to be seen, however, how much and how well Manningham will play in his first action since injuring his knee in Week 16 of 2012.
On the defensive side of the ball, Aldon Smith has been activated after taking a mandatory leave of absence to deal with alcohol issues. His replacements, Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier, played well at outside linebacker but only totaled one sack in five games. Smith will immediately improve the pass rush as his 4.5 sacks in 3 games is still tops on the 49ers. Tank Carradine and Eric Wright will also be active for the first time this season and may see small roles in Week 10.
For the Panthers, Cam Newton has been the lynch pin for their recent success. Over the last four games, he is 81-for-112 (72 percent) with 916 yards passing. He has thrown seven touchdowns passes and has only been picked off twice. Newton has also added three rushing touchdowns. The third year quarterback is doing a much better job of just managing the game these days, taking what the defense has given him rather than forcing the ball into coverage while trying to make a big play. If he can continue to play mistake free, high percentage football, the Panthers have an excellent chance to steal a win.
Game changing factor
As hot as the Panthers have been, they are yet to beat a team with a winning record. The combined record of Carolina’s opponents in their five wins is 8-33. The record of opponents during their current four game winning steak is 6-27. That’s not to say they have squeaked by those teams. They have outscored opponents 168-48 in their five victories (130-48 during the winning streak). They have failed to score points, though, when playing a team with a strong defense. The Seattle Seahawks held them to seven points in Week 1 and the Arizona Cardinals held them to six in Week 5. Other than Seattle in Week 1, the Panthers are yet to face a team as strong as the 49ers.
Stats to know
While the Panthers offense has woken up recently, it’s been their defense that is opening eyes around the league. Through nine weeks, Carolina leads the NFL in total defense and are second in yards allowed with 2399 total. They have given up a league low 106 points and are holding teams to only 13.2 per game. Their rushing defense is stout and have given up an NFL low 633 yards (79.1 per game) at a 3.7 yards per carry clip. Opposing teams only have two rushing touchdowns against them all season. Enter the 49ers, who are tops in the NFL with 153 yards on the ground per game and 15 rushing touchdowns. Something will have to give in this one.
Make no mistake about it, this is going to be a tough game for the 49ers. If the game was in Carolina, one could make a case that the Panthers could easily up end San Francisco here. Since the game is at Candlestick and the 49ers are coming off of a bye, it tips the scales their way. A win here will be big with a trip to New Orleans looming in Week 11.
Photo Credit: Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports
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