Sunday is almost upon us Panthers fans. It will be the day we get to see whether this team’s 12-4 regular season will mean anything. The Panthers square off against a red hot San Francisco team that is getting healthy at the right time. In the first matchup, the 49ers were without Michael Crabtree, lost Vernon Davis early in the game to a concussion, and saw Aldon Smith’s first game back from injury. These are plenty excuses that 49ers fans have been making all week to explain the loss, but here are 5 reasons the Panthers will win (again) on Sunday.
1. Playing in BOA
It is no secret that home field advantage is huge for this team. The Panthers have only lost one game at home all season and that was to the NFC’s #1 seeded Seattle Seahawks. It was a game that the Panthers should have won, no doubt. This home game will have an insane atmosphere, similar to playing in Seattle (I personally believe we have one of the loudest stadiums in football). Playoff tickets sold out in the first 3 minutes. Needless to say, Panthers fans are pretty jacked up to finally see their team return to the postseason. The fans will need to give the Panthers all the support they can. San Francisco was able to survive in a hostile Green Bay environment, we do not want that to be the case this week. Cam seems to elevate his game to another level when he has the crowd behind him. The offensive line steps up in a big way at home as well (probably because Nate Chandler can hear his blocking instructions). The defense should make plenty of plays to keep the crowd fired up all game, which leads into my next reason why the Panthers will win.
2. Carolina Simply has the Better Defense
For the majority of the 49ers, Packers game, Kaepernick and crew struggled to score touchdowns. You must keep in mind this was against a Packers defense ranked 25th in total defense, playing without their best defender in Clay Matthews. The task for San Francisco’s offense this weekend is leviathan in comparison. The Panthers defense is 2nd overall in total defense and scoring (Seattle is 1st in both categories). Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly have the sideline to sideline speed to keep Kaepernick honest in the pocket. The Panthers front 7 is the best in football and they should be able to get pressure all day (as they did in the first meeting). The Panthers secondary has been mocked all year, yet they have quietly played a solid season (finished 6th in pass defense). The secondary shut down Kaepernick’s options in their first meeting. Kaepernick failed to complete a pass more than 10 yards down the field (the 1st time this has happened in his career when attempting multiple deep passes). The Panthers defense may be one of the best the franchise has ever assembled and I have no doubt they will be able to control a potent San Francisco offense, even with the return of Michael Crabtree.
3. Cam Newton is a Better QB than Kaepernick
Kaepernick has a better supporting cast than Cam Newton (Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and now Crabtree). Cam’s best option is a 34 year old Steve Smith, who relies on his toughness to get open. Steve used to be an electrifying receiver (and still is at times) but even he will tell you he’s on the downward end of
his career. Anquan Boldin is the reason the Ravens won the Superbowl (and yet Joe Flacco received all the praise and money) and Vernon Davis is an elite receiving threat at tight end, but Cam Newton is having the better year. Lets look at it from a statistics standpoint:
3,197 passing yds, 58.4% completion %, 21 pass TDs, 8 INTs, 524 rushing rds, 4 rushing TDs, 1 lost fumble
3,379 passing yds, 61.7% completion %, 24 pass TDs, 13 INTs, 585 rushing yds, 6 rushing TDs, 0 lost fumbles
From a statistical standpoint I would say Cam has had the better season. Sure Kaepernick has slightly less turnovers, but Cam has more scores with a more efficient completion percentage. Experts criticized Cam for his poor completion percentage last season, but Kaepernick’s percentage is barely better this season (58.4% compared to Cam’s 57.7% from 2012), yet I see no mention of a slump or regression for Kaep. This just comes down to mass media marketing from so called “experts” on ESPN or NFL Network, that only want to promote teams that fit their agenda.
I remember an article ESPN promoted that listed Cam as the worst QB of the big five (Luck, Wilson, RGIII, Kaepernick). He was ranked 4th in durability, only beating RGIII for crying out loud! What a joke. The fact is Cam has had the best first 3 seasons of any quarterback EVER. He was the youngest QB to reach 10,000 passing yards, is second in total touchdowns only to Dan Marino. When you factor in all the rushing yards as well, he is shattering every expectation for what a QB can be. I believe Cam Newton is a superstar talent like a Lebron James or Michael Jordan (give it 3 years and he’ll be everywhere). This game on Sunday is going to come down to which QB outplays the other and commits fewer mistakes. My money is on Cam Newton.
4. Steve Smith is Back
The unquestioned heart and soul of the Panthers offense, this man brings a fire and a passion to an offense like no other player in the NFL. Smith is pound for pound the toughest and strongest guy in the NFL. He works hard every day and puts in the necessary preparation to excel and be great. He stated earlier this week that it is not a question of if he’ll be back but how effective he can be when he returns. Smith has been working all week on pushing his knee to its limit more and more everyday, hoping to gauge how much he can fight through it on Sunday.
Expect a lot of shots at Steve’s knee from 49ers defenders. This is technically legal by the NFL’s standard and a smart play by the 9ers. Without Steve Smith, this offense has no true number one guy. Smitty is a receiver you can throw to in the games biggest moments and expect him to come through for you. The next closest guy to fit that mold is Greg Olsen, but even he has dropped his fair share this year. We have seen the last few weeks how stagnant the offense is when Smith is not in the lineup. I for one am more excited to see Steve Smith return to a playoff game than any other Panther. I’ll never forget his double OT score that beat the Rams in the 2003 playoffs. This man shows up in big games and makes big plays. The Panthers are going to need everyone of them.
It’s the playoffs and this is the time of year where teams take more chances. “Go big or go home” is the old adage. Ron Rivera has shifted his entire philosophy this season, taking more risks and it has paid off in a big way. The Panthers have a team that is built for short yardage situations, with Cam Newton and Mike “Butterball” Tolbert. If there is a 4th and short around midfield, I expect Ron will keep the offense on the field and try to convert. Ron’s team is all about ball control and time of possession. The offense needs long drives to give the defense time to rest against a very stacked 49ers offense. If Cam and crew can stay mistake free, the defense should be able to hold onto a lead for them. Ron Rivera has the team focused and ready for this weekend’s battle between two heavyweight defenses. It will be a slugfest, Ron Rivera’s specialty. Expect this game to be a little higher scoring than the last. My guess is the first team to reach 20 will win (it is going to be the Panthers obviously).
There you have it Panther Nation, 5 reasons your Panthers will advance to the NFC championship on Sunday. Let us know what you think in the comments section. Feel free to add reasons you think they will win or argue why they won’t. Sports are about discussion and we love to see your input. Keep pounding!!!