1 point separated these teams when they met at Candlestick in week 10 so it’s fair to say they’re fairly evenly matched. The similarities are many and easy for most people to see; they both finished the regular season with 12 – 4 records, both have very strong defences the Panthers were ranked 6th in the NFL in terms of passing yards conceded and 2nd the league when defending the run. The 49ers were 7th and 4th in the same categories.
Both offences are lead by exciting young Quarterbacks who have powerful arms but can also use their feet to move the sticks. Cam Newton of the Panthers threw 24 touchdown passes this season and 13 interceptions; he also scored 6 rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards every time he carried the ball. The 49ers Colin Kaepernick threw 21 touchdown passes with just 8 interceptions and he scored 4 rushing touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards per run.
Both offences have veteran receivers leading their receiving corps, 34 year old Steve Smith for the Panthers is a veteran of their 2003 Super Bowl winning campaign but this season he has suffered from injuries and his appearance in this game is questionable. He has made just 64 catches all season and only scored 4 touchdowns but he has averaged 11.6 yards per catch so his presence could be vital in the Panthers ability to keep the chains moving. San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin is bidding to be the first player to win a Super Bowl with 3 different sides following the rings he collected with Arizona and Baltimore last year against the 49ers. The 33 year old has held the pass offence together most of the season as Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis have suffered injuries and only made limited appearances between them. Boldin made 85 receptions and caught 7 touchdowns this season; he has recorded 1,179 yards at an average of 13.9 yards per catch, the most since his 2006 season for the Cardinals.
Pass catching Tight Ends are a feature of the offences too and the Panthers veteran Greg Olsen leads them with 816 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns on 73 catches this season. Vernon Davis for the 49ers is usually the guy described as “the fastest man on the field” during commentary and he has the pace to be split out as a wide receiver, but after an injury hit season he only has 52 catches this season, it hasn’t stopped him catching 13 touchdown passes though becoming the first Tight End to catch at least 12 touchdown passes in consecutive seasons.
Both offences have elite running backs at their disposal too the Panther ground attack has been lead by DeAngelo Williams this season as he has racked up 843 rush yards but the Panthers have used a whole battery of running backs to aid Williams, Johnathan Stewart has 48 carries this season, Mike Tolbert has scored 5 touchdowns on 101 carries and even receivers Ted Ginn Jr and Brandon LaFell have been used in the running game this season. Frank Gore is the crown jewel in the 49ers offence and when he’s at his destructive best with the ball in his hands they invariably win, this season he has a massive 1,128 yards and 9 touchdowns, he has been ably assisted by Kendall Hunter who has 358 yards and 3 touchdowns this season, LaMichael James whose pace hasn’t really been unleashed to any great effect this season but his average of 5.9 yards per carry shows how effective he can be.
Ultimately this will be a very close battle and 1 individual error or piece of outstanding play from one of the many stars on show will decide who progresses to the NFC Championship game in Seattle. The 49ers are the bookmakers favourite and as they have built up a lot of momentum and overcome some serious adversity in the form of arctic temperatures last weekend they could have what it takes to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. A 49ers rematch in Seattle next week would be a mouth watering game but a Panthers defence who have only allowed 4 rushing touchdowns all season will have a lot to say about it and middle Linebacker Luke Kuelchy and Defensive End Greg “Kraken” Hardy have both got the ability to win this game for the Panthers. While for the 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree and pass rusher Aldon Smith will want to show what they bring to the party after both missed the regular season match up. For what it’s worth (nothing) I think the Panthers will win another nail biter, but it’s far from cut and dry.