I admit as a long time and devout Panther fan it I am worried about a few things in this game.
Panthers Offensive line
I'm worried the Panthers offensive line won't be able to open holes for the running game and then won't give Cam newton time to throw the ball on 3rd down. It think it's a legitimate concern given the recent struggles of the running game and offenses ability to put points on the board. After all,
if when the Panthers go to the Super Bowl they will be the lowest ranked offense in history to make the SB (#26 in 2013). Too often the Panther offense has left it up to the defense to keep them in the game. The Psnthers have the defense to make that happen.
What makes me feel better about that scenario is one thing:
While Newton has no comparison in measurables and athletic ability at the QB position in the NFL what I'm really keyed on here is the fact he is a winner. It's that simple. I watched his improbable run to a national championship. I watched him win the BCS championship while also not really looking that hot in the process. But that's just it too. He does enough to win, he gets the job done. I think we have seen that aspect of his game emerge in a big way this season as the Panthers as a team have shed the 'can't win the close ones' label.
Yet that leads me to my next worry...that we in the end we ask Newton to do to much.
The Panthers aren't built to come back from a big deficit. What typically builds large deficits early in a game is this:
The great equalizer...the Panthers really dodged a bullet here in the week 10 game. They put the ball on ground three times but only lost one. If the ball should bounce differently this time it could change this game and put more pressure on Newton. You might recall it was a single fumble that separated the Panthers from a possible victory in the season opener against the Seahawks. At this level of play the separation between victory and defeat is very, very small. The Panthers have done well on the season going +9 in the TO department but when its one and one that matters little.
But if we should play smart football, here is what brings a big bout of confidence:
I'm confident our defense can shut down the 49er running game
They do run the ball well and certainly Kaepernick is capable of breaking one on the read option or in passing downs. But the Panthers defense has pretty much stopped everybody and I don't see that changing. That will in turn force 3rd and longs and as long as the Panthers can force Kaepernick to throw the ball that bodes well for them. If the 49ers have to rely on his arm for the win then that is exactly what we want.
Yet that brings some apprehension as well. The x-factor in this game is WR Michael Crabtree who has been getting a lot of targets these days and he did not play in the first game.
Can one WR really have that kind of impact against the Panthers? It's possible...we've seen WR's like Mike Wallace and Vincent Jackson give the Panthers a hard time this season. He might be able to extend some drives and actually get the 49ers in the end zone this game.
But I'm not so worried about that really and here's why:
Home Field Advantage
I'm confident the Panthers will play well in front of the home crowd, especially the defense. I think the 49ers will realize they have walked into a buzz saw of a team looking for some respect and hungry to show the nation these guys can play. Charlotte is no longer predominantly a 'wine & cheese' crowd as I have suggested in the past. They have shown out in force both on the road and at home and made a difference to a team looking for acceptance. I'm not saying acceptance by the Panther fan base, no problem there. I mean acceptance as an NFL powerhouse team ready to prove it on the national stage. That my fellow Panther fans gives me confidence in our team like I haven't felt in quite some time.