NFL Preview - Carolina (5-3) at San Francisco (6-2)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers have used
a similar formula for success this season: a lot of points, a chain-moving
ground game and stingy defense.
The two streaking clubs go head-to-head this weekend in San Francisco, where
the Panthers try to post their longest winning streak in eight years against a
refreshed Niners club coming off its bye.
Carolina has racked up at least 30 points in each contest of its current four-
game winning streak while allowing just an average of just 12 points per game
in that span. That has the Panthers 5-3 on the season and just a game back of
the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South.
For San Francisco, it returns to the field for the first time since a
dominating win over Jacksonville in London on Oct. 27. That 42-10 rout was the
49ers' fifth win in a row and they have posted at least 31 points in each
victory while giving up more than 17 points just once.
Looking to claim six victories in a row for the first time since an eight-game
run during the 2011 campaign, San Francisco is 6-2 on the year and has
prevented 8-1 Seattle from running away with the NFC West.
The Panthers have also been keeping pace in their division and have two games
still to play against the Saints. Carolina is coming off a victory over
another division foe, besting the Atlanta Falcons 34-10 last Sunday.
Cam Newton threw for 249 yards and overcame two interceptions by throwing a
14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen while also running for an
Drayton Florence had a 38-yard interception return for a score in the fourth
quarter to lock things up.
Carolina amassed 131 rushing yards in the victory and picked off Atlanta
quarterback Matt Ryan three times. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly and fellow LB
Thomas Davis added interceptions.
The Panthers are now looking to win five straight for the first time since a
six-game run from Oct. 3-Nov. 13, 2005.
"We have been doing some good things," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
"Now we are facing the NFC Champion and it is going to be a very big test to
see where we are."
Few teams are as good a measuring stick as the Niners, who ran for 221 yards
and got a pair of rushing touchdowns from both quarterback Colin Kaepernick
and running back Frank Gore in the victory over the Jaguars.
Gore ran for 71 yards, Kaepernick added 54 yards on the ground to his 164
passing yards and running back Kendall Hunter rushed for 84 yards on nine
"The offense came out strong and put together great drives," said 49ers coach
"It felt like a huge stage," he said. "Wembley has a great tradition and
status as a venue. It was an amazing experience for the players and me
personally. At the beginning when they played the two anthems it felt like I
was at the Olympics. I always wanted to be in the Olympics."
The Panthers are visiting San Francisco for the first time since 2004 and
bring with them a three-game series winning streak. They recorded a 23-20 win
at home in the last encounter on Oct. 24, 2010 and lead the all-time series
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The 49ers and Panthers might as well play this weekend with mirrors attached
to their helmets given the similar styles.
Both clubs have young quarterbacks that can move the ball with their arms and
Newton has thrown 13 passing touchdowns and scored another four on the ground
while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He has 10 touchdowns (7 passing, 3
running) over Carolina's win streak and is the only player in NFL history with
50-plus passing scores and 25-plus rushing touchdowns in his first 40 career
Thanks in part to Newton, as well as leading rusher DeAngelo Williams (519
yards, 1 TD) and Mike Tolbert, Carolina is eighth in football with 130.1
rushing yards per game and is 11th in scoring at 25.5 points per game.
Tolbert has been a big part of that scoring, logging four rushing touchdowns
and adding another two through the air. Five of those scores have come in the
last four games.
Carolina's ground game also got a boost last weekend with the return of
Jonathan Stewart, who had been out since December of last year due to an ankle
injury. He ran for 43 yards on nine carries versus the Falcons while catching
three balls for 22 yards.
The 49ers are no slouches either, ranking fifth in the NFL with 27.3 PPG and
also have the league's top ground attack at 153.0 YPG. Gore is leading the way
with 618 yards and seven touchdowns, including back-to-back two-TD games.
Kaepernick has run for 294 yards and three touchdowns, while Hunter and
Anthony Dixon have combined for five scores on the ground.
Defensively, the Panthers rank second in points allowed (13.3 PPG), second in
rush defense (79.1 YPG) and third in total defense (299.9 YPG). They limited
the Falcons to 289 net yards last weekend, including just 78 on the ground,
and are led by Kuechly and his 64 tackles and three interceptions.
Davis has added 61 tackles with three sacks and a pick, while defensive end
Chris Johnson had a sack versus Atlanta to give him 19 1/2 and seven forced
fumbles in his last 21 games.
San Francisco is fourth in the NFL with just 18.1 points allowed per game and
is sixth overall in total defense, giving up 325.1 yards per game. The Niners
have perhaps the most talented and deepest linebacking group in all of
football and could have the talented but troubled Aldon Smith back on the
Smith leads the 49ers with 4 1/2 sacks, but has not played since Sept. 22
versus Indianapolis. He appeared in the game despite his arrest just days
earlier on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of
marijuana, but left the team following the game to seek help for a substance-
Taken seventh overall by San Francisco in the 2011 draft, Smith logged 14
sacks as a rookie and totaled 19 1/2 last year. He returned to the club during
the bye looking to continue his career.
"I'm getting there. Every day is a step closer to where I want to be," said
"I've gotten a lot of support, from my family, friends, the organization,
teammates and everything. It really says a lot that people care about me
outside the field, that they care about me as a person."
Fellow defensive leaders such as linebacker Patrick Willis and tackle Justin
Smith are glad to see him back, but Aldon Smith's status for this game is
"We'll assess that. It's been clear, and Aldon has been to, that this is a
thing that's being taken day-by-day," said Harbaugh.
The 49ers welcomed back a trio of players during the break as well, including
wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree as well as cornerback
Manningham made 42 catches in 12 games last season before sustaining a season-
ending torn ACL in late December, while Wright has been on the reserve/non-
football injury list to tend to a personal matter after signing a one-year
deal with the 49ers earlier in the month.
Both could play this weekend and the Niners made room for Wright by waiving
cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Crabtree is also back at practice for the first time since suffering a torn
Achilles during Organized Team Activities in the offseason and could return by
These two clubs current success and similar styles gives this game the
potential to be a good one and some could go as far as to say a possible
Unfortunately for the Panthers, it won't be played on even ground. The Niners
are home and well rested, even after a trip to London a few weeks ago. San
Francisco can also match Carolina's momentum despite the time off.
While Carolina likes to win games on the ground, the Niners' potential to do
it through both the passing and running game will be the difference.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 23, Panthers 16
11/07 14:48:56 ET