The San Francisco 49ers showed a lot of heart in their come back win over the Green Bay Packers last week. Green Bay had a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, but a 28 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis and a 33 yard field goal in the final seconds allowed the 49ers to advance to this divisional round game against Carolina. Winning on the road is no easy task to accomplish, and doing it in a playoff game during sub-zero temperatures makes the feat that much more impressive.
The Carolina Panthers are the hottest team in the NFL right now. They finished the regular season winning 11 of their final 12 games, and much like their opponent this week, the Panthers were carried by their outstanding defensive play. They allowed over 21 points in just one of those 12 games and seven of their 12 wins this season came by a double-digit margin.
Kick-0ff takes place this Sunday at 1:05 PM ET with television coverage being provided by FOX. After opening at a pick, the early money started pouring in on the 49ers and they now find themselves listed as a two-point favorite over the Panthers.
Why San Francisco Covers
The San Francisco 49ers may not have the benefit of a bye week, but I don’t think that puts them at a disadvantage in this game. They are not a team that has been bothered by injuries, and last week’s performance against Green Bay showed us just how healthy these 49ers players are. I also don’t think Carolina gets much of an advantage as far as preparation goes because they did not even know who they were playing until after the wildcard game. That makes a playoff bye week substantially different from your typical regular season bye when the schedule is already set.
Many times winning in the playoffs comes down to coaching more than it does players. Any team in the playoff is bound to heave several big playmakers on the roster. When you look at this matchup between San Francisco and Carolina the advantage is clearly in Harbaugh’s favor. He is 9-1 ATS when playing against a top-tier team that has won over 75 percent of their games on the season.
Jim Harbaugh is 9-1 ATS as the coach of San Francisco when playing against a top-tier team that has won over 75 percent of their games on the season.
The San Francisco 49ers had a couple of rough stretches this season, but in the final few games of the season the defense has shown substantial improvement. Making a run to the Super Bowl is less about how a team has performed on the year, and more about how they have performed lately. If you disagree, see the Baltimore Ravens last season. In their last six games the 49ers have allowed over 21 points just once, and it was a game that San Francisco still won by a double-digit margin.
Why Carolina Covers
The Panthers biggest advantage in this matchup is their ability to take away the running ability from Colin Kaepernick. Russell Wilson, E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith are all mobile quarterbacks that had poor performances on the ground against Carolina. The Panthers have already faced Kaepernick once this season and he was held to just 16 rushing yards and 91 passing yards in that game. Carolina held Russell Wilson to a mere seven rushing yards on five carries, E.J. Manuel to 13 rushing yards and the more run prone Geno Smith to 44 rushing yards in a game the Panthers won by a double-digit margin.
The San Francisco 49ers are 12-27 ATS against good rushing defenses that are allowing less than 90 rushing yards per game.
Carolina already has a road win over the 49ers, and having the benefit of playing host for this second matchup will be a big advantage. The Panthers finished the regular season with a 7-1 record at home, which included a 6-1-1 performance against the spread. They have held opponents to a mere 12 points per game when playing at home, while the offense has put up an impressive 25.9 points.
Carolina is an easy call in this game. The only playoff teams the 49ers beat in the regular season were Green Bay and Seattle, and the Packers squeaked into the postseason thanks to playing in one of the softest divisions in football. Their win over Seattle came at home and by a mere two-points. I don’t think they should be favored on the road against arguably the best defense in football. The Panthers outstanding defense should make the dual threat of Colin Kaepernick a non-factor.
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