Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) reacts in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Saint 17-13 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

A Big Part of Why the Panthers are the NFC's Second Seed

Predictions are all over the place as we approach an hour before the Carolina Panthers’ first NFL playoff game in years. Still getting no respect, the Panthers are being called out by the TV talking heads as “Home team most likely to lose.”

I see what they’re saying and I hear it. While we have a great defense, our offense probably can’t keep up with San Fran’s. The Niners have been getting a lot of players back that were injured when the Panthers defeated them 10-9 at Candlestick.

Instead of rehashing things that others have written so far, I thought I’d take a moment to remind everyone what I said about Luke Kuechly two years ago, before the draft occurred.

All the writers here at were given the task of choosing who we’d want to see taken with that top pick – and this was before the 2012 draft. “How I’d spend the Panthers’ top pick”

Click on the link and the article will open in a new window where I shared my thoughts on that particular draft. Take note of who I wanted, to whom I compared him, and how things have gone thus far.

I seem to have hit the nail squarely on the head with that one. I’f hit my thumb instead a number of times, but not on that one.

I bring it up because of who our opponent is and what I said in that article.

Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) scores the winning touchdown as New England Patriots strong safety Logan Ryan (26) defends in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49’ers are as deep a team as there is in the NFL and with the talent they have coming back online and at just the right time, combined with our own Steve Smith not being 100%, and a 34 year old to boot, means that either Ted Ginn and/or Domenick Hixon will have to step things up. I see a big day for TE Greg Olson today – with a hundred-plus yard day not being out the question for him.

Last week, I said the Panthers should win this one 24-13, but the more I think about it, the more trouble I see Cam and Co. moving the football against this team. With Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, running will be difficult. Aldon Smith rushes the passer and hods up against the point of attack in the running game equally well, and the Niners have a front-seven to rival just about anyone’s in the NFL now that they’re healthy and personal issues worked through.

I think ultimately the key will be whichever offensive line plays better will win this game. This is where the Panthers are at a disadvantage. Our line has had issues and a lot of troubles at the guard spots. The Niners certainly have playoff experience just from last year while few Panthers remain from that ’03 team that lost to the New England Patriots by 3 in the Super Bowl. Smitty might be the only one left.

I can see how a “neutral” observer would pick against the Panthers, seriously. Offensively, we don’t “wow” ANYONE and are built like the NFL version of the Wishbone. Cam, Tolbert, and D-Will spread carries with Williams usually getting close to half, Tolbert a third, and Newton a handful of the team totals. We have no true #1 WR threat even with a healthy Steve Smith…as I said before the start of last season, he’s lost a step and isn’t the deep threat he once was.

Where I think the “talking heads” are missing the boat is that the Panthers are one of only two or three teams in the NFL with a true championship-level defense. They are second in the NFL in turnover margin, which means the offense was designed, built, and game-planned to not turn the ball over. We’ve not seen so many deep targets this year in Ron Rivera’s vertical passing game but more pounding the rock (#KeepPounding, anyone?) with some play-action throws and lots of intermediate/underneath passes. Watch for those deep comeback/out routes that Cam loves to throw. When the timing is right, it can’t be defended against. When it IS being defended well, Cam often opens the relief valve and goes to Olsen or a back underneath.

A couple of times a game, they try the play-action and Ted Ginn runs a double-move in an attempt to get a cheap TD on a fooled assignment by a DB, but Ginn’s been known to drop those at times too. That’s why he was never going to be the Scary Deep Threat some were thinking he might be for us. I wrote about him here, “Franchise Spark, or Merely a Hired Ginn?”

Now that you’ve read all the prognostications ad nauseum, you might have a look at some things I had to say back before the guys ever stepped onto the field in a Panthers uniform…and judge for yourself how accurate (or not) I was.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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Tags: Carolina Panthers Carolina Panthers Playoffs NFC's Second Seed

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