Free NFL Picks: 49ers at Panthers Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 1/8/2014
In my opinion, no game is more evenly matched in the NFL's divisional round than the 49ers at Panthers on Sunday, and that's indicative in that this line is the only one under a touchdown as of this writing. But the teams really are mirror images. They are very physical on both sides of the ball and would just as soon pound the ball on the ground than throw it. They each have young dual-threat quarterbacks. Shoot, they each are coached by former Chicago Bears teammates: the Niners' Jim Harbaugh and Panthers' Ron Rivera. So while it may be the toughest game to handicap this weekend, it's the most interesting.
If you buy that playoff experience matters, then the Niners have a huge edge. They have won at least one playoff game in each of the past three seasons, including two on the road: last week at Green Bay and the 2012 NFC Championship Game in Atlanta. Twenty of San Francisco's 22 starters were on the team that went to the Super Bowl a season ago. Carolina is in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season and hasn't won a postseason game since 2005. The Panthers do have seven starters with playoff experience, led by receiver Steve Smith with eight games. I happen to think playoff experience is overrated.
49ers at Panthers Betting Story Lines
With all due respect to Seattle, these are the two teams playing the best football in the NFC right now. The Niners have won seven straight, including last week's 23-20 win in the frigid conditions of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Don't think the Panthers didn't see how Colin Kaepernick killed the Packers with his feet at times. Carolina has won 11 of 12, with the one loss a very understandable one in New Orleans where the Saints simply don't lose.
This is one of three rematch games this weekend. In Week 10, the Niners were beaten 10-9 at home by the Panthers as six-point favorites. While this was the NFL's highest-scoring season ever, that was a defensive clinic. There were only 25 combined first downs and 401 total yards. The Panthers totally baffled Kaepernick as he was just 11-of-22 for 91 yards with an interception; he didn't complete a single pass more than 10 yards downfield. Kaepernick rushed four times for only 16 yards and was sacked six times. He has been a vastly different QB since then. In addition, the Niners didn't have No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree for that first game. He has totally opened up the offense since his debut. In addition, in the 49ers' past four playoff games he has 28 catches for 410 yards and three touchdowns. In the six games since Crabtree returned from injured reserve, Kaepernick has completed 103-of-171 passes for 1,437 yards.
Carolina's Cam Newton wasn't a whole lot better in the first meeting, going 16-of-32 for 169 yards and a pick. He rushed eight times for 15 yards. The Panthers are 9-0 this season when Newton runs seven or more times and 3-4 when he runs six times or fewer. That 49res victory was the first win of Newton's career in a game decided by three points or fewer. The only touchdown in the game was on DeAngelo Williams' 27-yard run late in the first half. Panthers top receiver Steve Smith had a decent day with six catches for 63 yards, and he's the big injury news heading into this one. Smith sat out Week 17 with a sprained PCL but is expected to start. Without him, the Panthers had just 149 yards passing in a close win over the Falcons to close the regular season. Carolina's receiving group is weak, so Smith needs to be 100 percent or close to it.
As for the Niners, the injury to watch there is starting cornerback Carlos Rogers. He hurt his hamstring in Week 17 and was inactive for last week's game. Rogers had 47 tackles, eight passes defensed and two picks this season. He's questionable.
49ers at Panthers NFL Playoffs Betting Odds and Trends
At WagerWeb, San Francisco is a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 42. The Niners were 11-5 ATS (7-1 on road) in the regular season and 8-8 “over/under” (5-3 on road). The Panthers were 9-6-1 ATS (6-1-1 at home) and 5-11 O/U (2-6 at home). San Francisco is 5-0 ATS in its past five road games against teams with a winning home record. Carolina is 4-1 ATS in its past five against teams with a winning record. The over is 7-1 in San Francisco's past eight road games against teams with a winning home record. The under is 8-0 in Carolina's past eight after a win. The 49ers are 0-4 ATS in their past four trips to Charlotte.
Free NFL Picks: 49ers at Panthers Betting Predictions
This is by far the lowest total of divisional round weekend. The Niners haven't allowed more than 20 points since their last loss. Carolina's only loss in its past 12 games was the lone time it did allow more than 20: 31 at New Orleans. The temperatures should be in the low 60s, but there's a 40 percent chance of rain.
Carolina seems like the same club since the first meeting, while the Niners are better. Crabtree is around now, and tight end Vernon Davis left the first game early with a concussion. Linebacker Aldon Smith didn't play too much in that first one, either, after returning from treatment for substance abuse. He had 1.5 sacks against Green Bay. Take the Niners -- who may yet get one last playoff game at Candlestick if Seattle loses -- and the under.
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