Newton is the only QB in NFL history to have 50+ passing and 25+ rushing touchdowns over his first three seasons, and Kaepernick is the second QB ever to have at least 3,000 passing and 500 rushing yards in a single season.
On the other hand, Carolina has won 11 out of their last 12 games, including their 10-9 victory over the 49ers (in San Fran) in Week 10. And despite that this is the first time they’ll face the 49ers in a playoff situation, the Panthers have won eight of their last 10 games overall against them.
Not that it was a walk in the late season park for the Panthers to get to this point. They barely beat out the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17 to wrap up the division, 21-20.
The main difference (or should I say differences) this weekend will be for the 49ers’ offense. Offensively, San Francisco is a different team since week 10. In their previous matchup, the 49ers lacked the dominant on-field presence of both wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Crabtree, who suffered a torn Achilles, and Vernon, who suffered a concussion in the 2nd quarter vs. the Panthers, are two of Kaepernick’s favorite and most effective targets. And for good reasons.
Davis has 13 of Kaepernick’s TDs this season, six career postseason touchdowns (tying him for the second most by a tight end in NFL history), and 100+ receiving yards in four of his six postseason games. And Crabtree, well, he’s just physical. He’s the key to their deep ball game, which the Panthers really didn’t have to worry about last time. Since getting him back on the field, the 49ers have gone 6-0.
However, I do think the Panthers are tired of being called the “underdog,” even when they’re on their hometurf. (But really, how can you be an underdog and a division champion?) They’ve beat some formidable foes at home (see: Pats, Saints), so why not the 49ers?
Then again, the 49ers will have revenge on their mind. Sweet, sweet, low-scoring revenge.