SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-4)
at CAROLINA PANTHERS (12-4)
NFC Divisional Playoffs
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: San Francisco -1, Total: 42
The 49ers seek their eighth straight victory on Sunday when they visit a Panthers team that is 11-1 SU (8-3-1 ATS) in its past dozen games, including a 10-9 win at San Francisco on Nov. 10.
The Niners gained a pathetic 151 total yards in that Week 10 loss to Carolina, which countered with only 250 total yards. That improved the Panthers to 15-3 ATS (11-7 SU) all-time in this series, including 7-2 ATS (5-4 SU) at home. This year, they are 7-1 SU (6-1-1 ATS) in Charlotte, where they hold visitors to a paltry 12.0 PPG. But San Francisco's 23-20 win in Green Bay gives the club four straight road victories (3-0-1 ATS), and improves its outstanding road record this season to 7-2 SU (7-1-1 ATS). Its offense has tallied 378 total YPG in its past four contests (three on road), including 159 rushing YPG on 5.2 YPC. The Niners are also 9-1 ATS when facing a top-level team (75%+ win pct.) since 2011, outscoring these elite opponents by an average score of 30 to 18. Not only is Carolina 16-4 ATS after playing its last game on the road under Ron Rivera, but all good NFL teams (60% to 75% win pct.) off an extremely close road win by three points or less, facing a winning team with a line of +3 to -3 are 36-12 ATS (75%) since 1983. Both teams have some injuries of concern for Sunday, as the 49ers could be without CB Carlos Rogers (hamstring) and TE Demarcus Dobbs (knee), while the Panthers have two key players, RB Jonathan Stewart (knee) and DT Colin Cole (calf), who are listed as questionable.
Which team will advance to the NFC Championship? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts closed out the regular season in style, combining for a 60% ATS record (68-45-7) over the final eight weeks, including 77% ATS (24-7) in Weeks 16 and 17. StatFox Brian was 8-1 ATS in Best Bets in the final two weeks, has a 67% ATS (31-15-3) mark since Week 7, and is 59% ATS (39-27-5) this season. StatFox Scott is 59% ATS (31-22-1) in Best Bets since Week 4, and is also a robust 63% (22-13) in NFL Totals since Week 9. StatFox Gary's 3-0 ATS mark in Week 17 gave him seven perfect weeks in Best Bets since Week 4, and is 70% ATS (15-7-2) in Best Bets since Week 10. The experts combined for a perfect 5-0 ATS record in NFL Totals during Wild Card weekend.
The 49ers are the rare team that has actually scored more points on the road (26.3 PPG) than at home (24.0 PPG) this season. In last week's victory in frigid Green Bay, they ran for 167 yards on just 30 carries (5.6 YPC), and outgained the Packers by 100 yards (381 to 281). San Francisco's ground game has been stellar all season with 139 rushing YPG on 4.4 YPC, thanks mostly to RB Frank Gore, who has 1,194 rushing yards on 296 attempts (4.0 YPC) in his 17 games. Although he had a subpar outing last week (66 yards on 20 carries), Gore was able to score a touchdown for the fourth straight time in a postseason game. For his playoff career, he has compiled 690 total yards and 5 TD in six games, averaging a strong 4.9 yards per carry. QB Colin Kaepernick had another monster postseason performance last week with 325 total yards (227 passing, 98 rushing), improving his playoff record to 3-1. In these four postseason games, Kaepernick has thrown for 256 YPG (9.3 YPA) with 5 TD and 3 INT, while running for 362 yards on an unbelievable 11.3 YPC and three touchdowns. Despite the Panthers' tough run defense, Gore was still able to rush for 82 yards on 16 carries (5.1 YPC) against them while Kaepernick added 16 yards on four rushes. If the duo is not able to run the football, Kaepernick has three talented receivers that can move the ball through the air in TE Vernon Davis and WRs Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Although Davis and Boldin have combined for 2,104 receiving yards and 21 TD this season, both were shut down in Week 10 versus Carolina, combining for just four receptions for 25 yards and 0 TD. Crabtree didn't play in that game, but he sure made his presence felt last week in Green Bay with eight catches for 125 yards. That gives him 410 receiving yards and 3 TD over four career playoff games, all in the past two seasons. Defensively, the 49ers have been outstanding in all facets this season. They ranked among the top-seven teams in the NFL in scoring defense (17.0 PPG, 3rd), rushing defense (96 YPG, 4th), total defense (317 YPG, 5th), third-down defense (34%, 6th) and passing defense (221 YPG, 7th) during the regular season. San Francisco was able to limit a great Packers offense to 20 points and 281 yards last week, holding them to 3-of-11 conversions on third downs. The Niners run defense has been outstanding all season (3.8 YPC), and has been even better on the road (88 YPG on 3.6 YPC). In the nine away tilts this year, San Francisco has limited host teams to 299 total YPG on 4.9 yards per play. The unit has also forced at least two turnovers in 15-of-17 games this season, totaling 30 takeaways. But the Panthers are not a team that gives up the ball easily.
Carolina has been able to win 11 of its past 12 games because it has committed a total of 10 turnovers during this stretch. QB Cam Newton has completed 63.3% of his passes for 2,494 yards (208 YPG), 7.2 YPA, 18 TD and 8 INT during this 12-game stretch, but has also kept drives alive with his legs this season with 585 rushing yards (5.3 YPC) and six touchdowns. But he was bottled up in the Week 10 win in San Francisco, throwing for just 169 yards on 5.3 YPA, and rushing for a mere 15 yards on eight carries. Despite that lousy performance, Newton helped the Panthers finish the regular season fifth in the NFL in offensive time of possession (31:53), fourth in third-down conversions (44%) and seventh in red-zone efficiency (58% TD rate). But despite having a ball-control, drive-sustaining, TD-converting offense with a limited amount of turnovers, they somehow average only 317 total YPG (26th in NFL) with 22.9 PPG (18th in league). A big part of that has to do with a passing offense that doesn't gain a lot of yards (190 YPG, 29th in NFL) and doesn't get a ton of big plays either (10.4 yards per reception, 23rd in league). Top WR Steve Smith (745 rec. yards, 4 TD) missed the season finale with a knee injury, but he is probable for Sunday. Smith secured six catches for 63 yards against the Niners in Week 10, and he has had some huge performances in his eight career playoff games, totaling 782 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. TE Greg Olsen led the Panthers in receptions (73), receiving yards (816) and touchdowns (six) this year, but he had just one catch for 14 yards in the win over San Francisco. Carolina's running game has been strong this season (127 YPG, 11th in NFL), and was able to grind out 109 yards on 31 carries (3.5 YPC) in that victory. RB DeAngelo Williams (843 rush yards, 4 TD) led the way with 46 yards on just eight attempts (5.8 YPC), and he may have to carry a bigger workload if Jonathan Stewart (180 rush yards, 3.8 YPC) cannot suit up. On defense, the Panthers are sound in all facets. They finished the regular season with a league-leading 60 sacks, while ranking second in the NFL in scoring defense (15.1 PPG), second in total defense (301 YPG), second in rushing defense (87 YPG) and third in red-zone defense (42% TD rate). Although Carolina allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 66.6% of their passes (3rd-worst in NFL), the club still finished sixth in passing defense (214 YPG) with more interceptions (20) than touchdowns allowed (17). For the season, the Panthers forced at least one turnover in 15 of 16 games, and tallied 2+ takeaways 10 times, including the win over the Niners.