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San Francisco 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers Point Spread - Pick

San Francisco 49ers (13-4 SU, 11-5-1 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (12-4 SU, 9-6-1) ATS)
NFC Divisional Playoffs
Date and Time: Sunday January 12th, 2014. 1:05PM Eastern
Where: Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, N.C.
TV: FOX
by Jay, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: SF -2/CAR +2
Over/Under Total: 42

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The San Francisco 49ers overcame extreme conditions last week to score a big postseason win on the road in Green Bay. Despite subzero temperatures at Lambeau Field, the 49ers rallied behind the arm and legs of quarterback Colin Kaepernick to earn a 23-20 victory in one of the coldest games in NFL history. San Francisco will now take the road again this week for a Divisional Playoff meeting with the Carolina Panthers inside Bank of America Stadium.

Both the 49ers and the Panthers finished the regular season with stout 12-4 SU records. The Panthers benefited from a first round bye and the no. 2 seeding thanks to their NFC South Division Title. The 49ers had to go through the Wild Card ranks despite finishing with the same record due to the fact they finished behind Seattle in the NFC West which automatically pushed them back to a number 5 seed. Still both teams have very similar characteristics which should present an exciting grudge match. The Panthers own the 2nd best overall defense in the NFL and the 49ers have the 3rd best scoring defense yielding just 17 points per game.

Outside of strong defenses, both teams also have their biggest playmaker at the quarterback position. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been impressive since his arrival in the NFL and has become one of the most difficult quarterbacks in the league to defend. Newton has tossed 24 touchdowns with 13 picks while racking up 3,379 passing yards. Newton is also one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL along with Kaepernick. Newton has averaged 5.3 yards per attempt on the ground this year which ranks 3rd in the NFL. Kaepernick has been even better racking up 5.7 yards per attempt which leads the NFL. Kaepernick proved how dangerous his legs were last week against Green Bay by converting several key first downs during the final drive to ultimately setup the 49ers' game winning field goal. Kaepernick ended the game with 98 yards on the ground and moved to 5th all-time in rushing yards by a quarterback in the postseason despite just 4 playoff games under his belt.

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Obviously the similarities are endless from the defense, to the star players, and even into the offensive scheme both teams like to run. With so many similarities, it may not be surprising that odds makers have this weekend's showdown listed as a near coin flip with the 49ers currently being favored by just 2 points. It actually may be a little surprising the Panthers are not the team getting the slight edge based on their performances at home this season. Carolina is 7-1 SU and 7-1 ATS this season inside Bank of America Stadium.

For Carolina to extend their streak, Cam Newton and the offense have to deliver. The Panthers will likely have a rough time running the ball between the tackles against the 49ers defense. Running back DeAngelo Williams is a solid tailback but the 49ers were able to shut down Green Bay's Eddie Lacy last week as well. The 49ers defense was also able to get plenty of pressure on Aaron Rodgers which will be critical in thwarting Cam Newton. Newton has not been the best pocket passer under pressure and this game will likely come down to his ability to stay poised in the pocket while escaping with his legs once the pocket collapses. Ironically that is just how Kaepernick beat the Packers last week. Did I mention the similarities already?

Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Panthers should be extremely tough inside Bank of America Stadium this Sunday. However I still like the 49ers to pull out the victory. The 49ers are a bit more physical on both sides of the ball. Additionally, WR Michael Crabtree stepped up last week to catch 8 passes for 125 yards. Crabtree missed most of the regular season with an Achilles injury but his return along with big performance last week will make the 49ers even tougher to defend on film. WR Anquan Boldin and TE Vernon Davis should benefit this week as the 49ers open things up in the passing game against the Panthers biggest weakness which is their defensive backs. Take San Francisco -2

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