San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers Point Spread
Point Spread Line: San Francisco -1
San Francisco kicked a FG as time expired in a 23-20 win at Green Bay last Sunday. Carolina had a bye last week. The Panthers won the Week 10 matchup 10-9 at San Francisco.
The 49ers clearly want to run the ball and are one of the few teams in the league who won't abandon it. RB Frank Gore is the workhorse but he faces a real challenge against the No.2 defense in the NFL. They were especially tough to run on (87 ypg) and feature All Pro MLB Luke Kuechly. RB Kendall Hunter has also been productive in a backup role. QB Colin Kaepernick ran with great effectiveness last week (6-98) and the defense will have to have a strategy to combat the read option. The return of WR Michael Crabtree has given the offense the diversity they have lacked for most of the season (and in the earlier encounter) and that was on display last week. He caught eight passes for 125 and was a thorn in the side of Packers defenders all game. WR Anquan Boldin remains a handful and can get the tough yards, while TE Vernon Davis can hurt any defense. If the Carolina defense has a weak link it is in the secondary. Their strong suit is their pass rush (NFL-high 60 sacks) led by DE Greg Hardy (15) and DE Charles Johnson (11). Kaepernick has the speed to elude the rush but it will be hard to run around those two ends.
The Panthers won 11 of their last 12 games but averaged only 20 ppg over their final eight games. QB Cam Newton had a good year and his decision making improved as well. TE Greg Olsen is the top receiver as he led the team in catches, yardage and TDs but his numbers are pedestrian compared to most team leaders. WR Steve Smith (knee) missed Week 17 but will play this week though not at 100%. Carolina averaged only 190 yards passing per game and isn't built to rely on that aspect of their game. Newton was sacked 43 times this season and now has to face a healthy OLB Aldon Smith and a very imposing front seven. RB DeAngelo Williams is the leading ballcarrier but isn't a consistent producer. San Francisco gave up some rushing yards to Green Bay last week but part of that was because of their respect for the passing game. That isn't the case this week and we feel San Francisco will gear their defense to stop the run first and make Newton throw the ball more than the coaches would like.
Point Spread Pick
In the first matchup, Crabtree didn't play, Davis was injured early and Aldon Smith played five snaps. All three players are healthy and we feel they give the 49ers the edge. While both teams want to run the ball and have QBs that can run, the return of Crabtree gives the Niners a much more diversified offense. Kaepernick has three weapons at his disposal to test a suspect secondary whereas he had one in the first matchup. The Panthers have played good ball this season but the 49ers are on a seven-game winning streak that we see going to eight.
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