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Experts Predict Outcome of 49ers-Panthers Game

Posted Jan 10, 2014

49ers.com compiled the picks of NFL experts in advance of Sunday's game in Carolina.

Who ya got?

As we approach the 49ers-Panthers Wild Card playoff opener, that is the question.

Read the experts' picks, then provide your own answer in our comment section.

Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback: San Francisco 16, Carolina 12

Defense was dead in the Wild Card round. Not here. Colin Kaepernick will use Michael Crabtree just enough, and the bum knee of Steve Smith (if he even plays) will be a huge loss for Cam Newton. One proviso on this: The cat-quick Carolina linebackers (watch for Thomas Davis dropping stealthily into coverage in some zone blitzes) could turn this game if Kaepernick is careless against Davis and Luke Kuechly.

Elliott Harrison of NFL.com: San Francisco 24, Carolina 20

We're predicting almost the exact same score as last week for the 49ers. Cam Newton and thePanthers are going to make this a tough road assignment for the hottest team in pro football. San Francisco enters this weekend on a seven-game win streak, but it should be noted that Ron Rivera's group beat these 49ers -- in Candlestick Park -- back in Week 10. His defense was suffocating that day, and Colin Kaepernick did not have his best day throwing the football. Of course, Michael Crabtree wasn't available -- what a difference his return has made. And what a difference a little pass protection would make against a big time pass rush on Sunday. How the Niners fare against Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy -- and conversely, how well those Carolina edge rushers keep contain on Kaepernick -- could decide the outcome. Kaepernick has run for the most yards by a quarterback since he took over under center in Week 11, 2012. By far. 

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com: Carolina 16, San Francisco 13

Brace yourself for a low-scoring slobberknocker reminiscent of the Steve McNair-Eddie George eraTitans banging bodies against the Ray Lewis-Jamal Lewis Ravens early last decade. These teams are mirror images of each other. The 49ers' style of play doesn't require a home-field advantage. If the Panthers defense and raucous crowd can recapture their Week 16 form, however, it's going to be a challenge for even the NFL's hottest team to escape with a victory. I will be shocked if this is not the closest game of Divisonal Round Weekend.

Bill Williamson of ESPN.com: San Francisco 23, Carolina 17

The 49ers have played close games in four of their past five games, and they have won them all. I think they are in for another tight game. While this game is going to be a 60-mintue affair and could go either way, I think the 49ers will move on because they have more playoff experience, their defense is stout, and, most importantly, their offense is better than it was when the 49ers first met the Panthers.

David Newton of ESPN.com: Carolina 17, San Francisco 13

The 49ers' bandwagon has filled up since they won in Green Bay. People want to say they are the hot team. But the Panthers have won three straight and 11 of their past 12. No team has been hotter. During that time they won at San Francisco and beat New England on a Monday night. I don't see the league's second-ranked defense having a letdown, and this one is in Charlotte, where Carolina has won seven straight. 

Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News: San Francisco 24, Carolina 23

San Francisco will be able to block for Kaepernick a little better against the Panthers’ prowling pass rush from Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. A banged-up Steve Smith and the rest of Newton’s targets also don’t quite have the pop of Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com: Carolina 16, San Francisco 13

Playing back-to-back road games is tough enough in the regular season, but playing the second one on the opposite coast in the playoffs is really tough. That's what the 49ers are doing this week. Carolina is rested after its bye. Carolina beat the 49ers earlier this year in San Francisco 10-9 in a defensive struggle. They did a great job on Colin Kaepernick that day, limiting him to 107 yards of total offense. I don't see that happening again with Michael Crabtree back. But the Panthers can beat you up with their defensive front. So can the 49ers. That's why I see a low-scoring game with Cam Newton making a big play late with his legs to set up the Panthers for a game-winning field goal.

Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk: Carolina 16, San Francisco 9

When these two teams met in San Francisco in November, the defenses dominated: Carolina’s D held San Francisco’s O to five different three-and-outs, while also recovering a Kendall Hunter fumble and intercepting Colin Kaepernick to end the game. San Francisco’s D held Carolina’s O to three different three-and-outs and intercepted Cam Newton once. Kaepernick was held to a season-low 91 passing yards, while Newton wasn’t much better, with just 169 passing yards. I expect this to be another low-scoring defensive struggle. Both defenses are good, but the Panthers’ defense is better, and I like Carolina to win a close one.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk: Carolina 17, San Francisco 16

The last time the 49ers played the Panthers, receiver Michael Crabtree was still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, tight end Vernon Davis left early with a concussion, and linebacker Aldon Smith participated in only 12 snaps in his first game back from rehab.  Also, quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently has rediscovered the groove that made Ron Jaworski proclaim Kaepernick could be the best ever.  The Panthers don’t care.  Tough and gritty and able to overcome adversity, it’s Cam Newton’s time to step onto the big stage and shine.  He’ll find a way, early or late or at some point in between, to make enough plays to complement a defense that will give Kaepernick a much harder time than the Green Bay defense did in the wild-card round.

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