After compiling a 6-2 record in the first half of their season, the San Francisco 49ers will look to push their current winning streak to six games when they host the Carolina Panthers (5-3) this coming Sunday, who are riding a four-game winning streak themselves. Something's got to give.

This matchup features two teams who so far look very similar to each other. On offense they are both bottom-10 in passing (CAR - 25th, SF - 32nd) while ranking top-10 in rushing (CAR - 8th, SF - 1st). On defense they both give up an average of 221 passing yards per game while San Francisco's run defense (12th) has not been as stout as Carolina's (2nd). This week AJ welcomes back Diego to discuss whether Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, and the 49ers defense match up against the surprisingly formidable Panthers.


Colin Kaepernick: over/under 250 passing yards vs the Panthers?
Diego:
During these last five games, Kaepernick has only thrown for over 250 yards once (vs the Cardinals in week six), and he barely got there with 252 passing yards. In the other four games from the ongoing winning streak, he hasn't even cracked the 200-yard barrier through the air. Moreover, the only other time he threw for over 200 yards was the week one beat down of the Packers (412). I'm taking the under on this one.

The keys to Kaepernick having a successful performance against the Panthers will be his ability to take care of the ball (only three turnovers during this winning streak, two by way of fumbles) and getting the ball into the endzone . Carolina is tied for second in the NFL in takeaways with 12 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries, while also also giving up the least number of touchdowns in the NFL (seven passing, two rushing). Another key for Kaepernick may be whether he continues to effectively run the ball, as he has put together his best rushing performances of the season back-to-back over the last two games.

AJ: To say that the 49er passing attack has been less than prolific this season would be a mild understatement. To be sure, after Colin Kapernick's week 1 explosion against the Packers, many expected that he'd be throwing for at least 300 yards per week. Funny how things work out, isn't it?

As I wrote last week, however, much of Kap's lackluster performance early in the season was primarily due to his mysterious "foot issue." His mechanics slipped gradually after week 1...especially as it pertains to stepping into his throws. The result was wild inaccuracy on deeper routes, and a tendency for his passes to float on occasion...which rendered him almost completely ineffective at stretching the field.

But that was then. In his last two games, Kap has completed 62% of his passes, rushed for 124 yards and accounted for 4 TDs. He's been more efficient with the ball. He's been far more accurate. He's been far more explosive...and he's become a part of why the 49ers are winning games.

I'm taking the over here, and not just because of Kap's improvement in recent weeks...but because of what might end up becoming the biggest matchup of the day: Vernon Davis vs. Luke Kuechly. The talented Panther linebacker makes big plays...but he is not consistently effective in coverage, and that will create opportunities for Vernon through the air. Opportunities for Vernon equal yards for Kap.

Frank Gore: over/under 100 yards rushing vs the Panthers?
AJ:
The Panthers have a VERY stout run defense. At present, they are #1 in the NFL, allowing 79.1 yards per game (3.7 yards per carry). This will be the best defensive front against the run that the 49ers will face this season.

The aforementioned noted, the 49ers have the best rushing attack in the NFL...and it isn't close. They have scored 15 TDs through 8 games, averaging 153 yards per game, 4.5 yards per carry, and 14 runs of 20 yards or more. This game will be a battle of strength vs. strength.

So what does that mean for Frank Gore? It means that he's in for a tough game. The kind of game that will likely see him carry the ball 20 times for about 80 yards and a score or two...but he won't crack the century mark. I'm taking the under here. The run game is going to play a HUGE part in whether or not the 49ers win this game...but odds are that their success on the ground will come as the result of the combined efforts of Gore, Hunter, Dixon and Kaepernick.

Diego: There is no doubt Frank Gore is having an excellent season this year, ranking in the top ten in just about every significant rushing statistic. Gore ranks fifth in the NFL with 18.25 carries/game.

As AJ points out, what Carolina has done so far this season in run defense has been outstanding. However, you could argue that part of their success is due to the Panthers jumping out to leads over their last four games, forcing opponents to abandon the run game somewhat. During their current four game winning streak, no single running back has attempted more than 17 carries (Zac Stacy in week seven), and as a matter of fact Carolina has yet to face a running back this season who carried the rock as many times as Frank Gore does on average.

There is no doubt that the 49ers ongoing five game winning streak has come as a result of their commitment to the running game, and during that stretch Gore is averaging 21 carries/game, second only to Eddie Lacy (23.8) over that same stretch. The last time Gore faced a top-five run defense (week six vs the Cardinals), Gore was able to eclipse the 100 rushing yards (barely, with 101) by carrying the rock 25 times. Assuming this stays a close game throughout, which I believe it will, Gore should get enough carries to have a chance to eclipse the 100-yard mark against the Panthers.

49ers defense: over/under 18 points given up to the Panthers?
Diego:
17.88. That's how many points the 49ers defense gives up per game so far this season. If you go check the stats it will tell you that the number is actually 18.1, but that's counting the safety in week two at Seattle, which shouldn't be counted when we discuss how many points this defense gives up (and yes, that means San Francisco has not given up a touchdown on a turnover return or on special teams). The Panthers are scoring 25.5 points/game, 11th best in the NFL. However, 14 of those points how come by way or interceptions returned for touchdowns, so their offense is actually averaging 23.75 points/game. So what gives this Sunday at Candlestick?

I'm taking the over on this one. Although Carolina's winning streak has come against teams that are in the bottom half of the league in points given up per game and the 49ers match up well against the Panthers both in the running game and in the passing game, San Francisco has given up its fair share of points when they don't face trash quarterbacks (and even gave up 20 points to the Carson-Palmer-led Cardinals). When facing Aaron Rodgers, Russel Wilson, and Andrew Luck, the 49ers gave up 28 points/game. While I don't expect Cam Newton and his offense put up 28 points this Sunday, I do foresee Carolina maybe reaching the 20-point mark.

AJ: Under, under, under. In the last 5 weeks, the 49ers have surrendered 12.2 points per game. Think about that. That, my friends, is the mark of a good defense.

At present, Carolina leads the league in time of possession, primarily because of how well the run the ball. It is precisely their ability to chew up the clock that has contributed to their ability to score points and ultimately, to win games. I think that trend breaks this weekend. Why?

33%. What is 33%? It's the 49ers defensive 3rd down conversion rate...which is currently 3rd in the NFL (behind Kansas City and Detroit). In short, I don't think that the Panthers will have much success on 3rd down this weekend...and I think that will take them completely out of their game plan.

Two-Minute Drill
AJ:

  • It appears that Aldon Smith is going to get some playing time this week. With only a week to get re-acclimated to football, odds are that he won't have that big an impact.
  • I mentioned this earlier, but I'll mention it again: the biggest matchup problem for the Panthers is going to be Vernon Davis. If you get the chance, pay careful attention to how he's defended. If they choose to man him up with Luke Kuechly (as they did early with Tony Gonzalez last week) it could be a long day for the Panther defense.
  • The Panther offense is eerily similar to the 49er offense. It will be interesting to see how Vic Fangio chooses to defend the opposition this week. I think the 49ers will focus on keeping Newton in the pocket and surprising him on occasion with middle pressure to try forcing him into mistakes.
  • Michael Crabtree has been activated from IR, giving the 49ers three weeks to activate him. Does anyone think that he'll see playing time against the Saints? I do.

Diego:
  • As I'm sure many of you are, I am really interested to see how Mario Manningham performs in his first game back from a torn ACL and PCL. Needless to say wide receivers opposite from Anquan Boldin have been a disappointment this season, and the common belief is that the return of Manningham and eventually Crabtree will give the 49ers offense a boost. I won't be disappointed if Manningham has a fairly average game in his first action in over 10 months, but even that may be better than anything we've seen from every other WR so far.
  • I won't believe it until I see it, but reports suggest LaMichael James may finally see some action as soon as this week, with a focus on punt returns. I may sound like a broken record at this point, but unless James has gotten significantly better in punt returns in practice, or has been secretly practicing at Candlestick, I saw nothing during his preseason performances as a punt returner to feel like he should be put in that spot. He simply did not look comfortable in that position, and I'll take a fair catch from Kyle Williams every time over a possible muff by James. I do, however, believe he should be given a chance in kick returns, where he looked a lot more comfortable.
  • I'm not even excited about Eric Wright's activation onto the 53-men roster. At this point I just don't know what to expect from him, nor whether he will see any significant playing time. Can he be an effective slot CB? If so I could see him maybe getting some playing time as a dime CB, where I feel Perrish Cox has done a decent job but wouldn't mind seeing Wright get a crack at it. Can he be a contributor in special teams? Darryl Morris has been excellent in that role as of late and I can't be the only one who wants to see more playing time for the rookie (especially given the Marcus Cooper experiment). Wright offers nice depth, but that's about

Week 10 Picks
Let's keep it real, AJ made you guys lose A LOT of money last week.

Redskins (-2) at Vikings
AJ:
The Redskins may be incapable of stringing together 4 quarters of good football...but the Vikings struggle to string together 4 good plays. REDSKINS.

Diego:
as a fantasy football player, I'm really excited for tonight's game. As far as picking a winner, I can't even pick RG3 with confidence anymore and I'm kind of disappointed that he apparently has yet to learn (and may NEVER learn) to have better decision-making when putting his body at risk, but right now the Vikings just do not have an answer at QB, and short of Adrian Peterson putting the team on his back several times in this game ... REDSKINS.

Bengals (-1.5) at Ravens
AJ:
The Bengals laid an egg against a very beatable Dolphin team last week. That is not something I think they'll do two weeks in a row...especially because they are playing a team whose sole weapon (Ray Rice) is backsliding...badly. BENGALS.

Diego:
I didn't think the Ravens would be very good this season ... I just didn't think they would be this bad. Joe Flacco coming out healthy would be a victory for Baltimore ... if that. BENGALS.

Bills at Steelers (-3)
AJ:
The Steeler defense had the worst game in team history last week. This team has fallen so far, so fast that watching them play makes my eyes bleed. The only bright spot for Steelers fans this season is that they only have to watch their team suck for 8 more weeks. BILLS.

Diego:
Even with EJ Manuel reportedly being on track to start for the Bills, I don't even have an explanation for you guys. Just ... STEELERS

Eagles at Packers (-2)
AJ:
A team led by Seneca Wallace is favored to win a game? Seriously?
Though I am convinced Chip Kelly sold his soul to win last weeks game...the Chuck n' Duck project should handle Seneca Wallace and friends with ease. EAGLES.

Diego:
Man, somehow you have to find the middle point between not buying too much into Nick Foles ridiculous record-setting performance last week in Oakland, and understanding that Seneca Wallace will be better prepared this week after a full week of reps with the first team. I smell more Philly disappointment coming, so ... PACKERS.

Jaguars at Titans (-12)
AJ:
So I was screwing around with Madden 25 last night, and decided to start a franchise with the Jaguars. My XBOX 360 started laughing at me and turned itself off. When I turned it back on, a message on the screen read: "try that crap again and it's the Red Rings of Death for you." TITANS.

Diego:
LMAO, AJ. TITANS.

Lions (-2) at Bears
AJ:
At the rate the Bears defense is giving up yards these days, the city of Chicago might want to consider installing toll gates at midfield with Megatron coming to town. LIONS.

Diego:
**reads AJ's pick**, **checks the stats**, ** changes his pick** ... LIONS.

Raiders at Giants (-7)
AJ:
I will never pick the Raiders to win a game again in the history of forever. Any defense that makes Nick Foles look like Johnny Unitas on steroids should be restrained and forced to listen to Menudo records for 96 hours straight. GIANTS.

Diego:
The fact that you even know about Menudo is disturbing ... it would only make sense that the Giants go on a winning streak, which actually makes the NFC East more pathetic than it already is. GIANTS.

Rams at Colts (-9.5)
AJ:
Different week, same story: it doesn't matter how good your defense is if you can't score points. I foresee a lopsided game. COLTS.

Diego:
There are only two possible outcomes to this game: either the Colts blow the Rams out of the building, or somehow St. Louis will make this a close game. It's just too bad the Rams have no idea how to close out a game, so they actually have no chance no matter what. COLTS.

Seahawks (-6.5) at Falcons
AJ:
The wheels are beginning to come off for the Seahawks. They are a far better team than the Falcons...but I don't think that matters. Sloppy play, injuries and an early start don't make this one look promising for the visitors. I smell an upset. FALCONS.

Diego:
Good, so I'm NOT the only one that smells this coming. If Steven Jackson is able to run on Seattle the way Mike James and Zac Stacy ran on them, the Seahawks will once again lose after a four game winning streak. FALCONS.

Broncos (-7) at Chargers
AJ:
UFR wishes Coach Fox a speedy recovery. As for the game, the Broncos are the better team...even if they are beatable on the road. If the Chargers couldn't pull off a win against the Redskins, I can't imagine them winning this one, either. BRONCOS.

Diego:
I'm still sitting here like, "did the Chargers really have three plays at the end last week's game on the Redskins' one-yard line, and not ONCE did they line up in goal line formation and ram it in?" I mean, who the hell do they think they are? The Rams? ... San Diego doesn't have the defense to keep Peyton Manning on check. BRONCOS.

Texans at Cardinals (-2.5)
AJ:
No snarky comments for this one, either. We at UFR wish Coach Kubiak a speedy recovery. Look for his team to pull out the upset here. TEXANS.

Diego:
It's definitely fun to watch Case Keenum right now, but Arizona can get pretty hostile and they have a very good defense. Even if Palmer turns it over once or twice ... CARDINALS.

Cowboys at Saints (-7)
AJ:
After a reporter suggested that the Cowboys were lucky to have beaten one of the worst teams in the NFL last week, QB Tony Romo immediately threw him a dirty look...which was intercepted by another reporter, who returned it for a TD. SAINTS.

Diego:
It is actually a lot of fun to watch the Cowboys, knowing that a meltdown is coming sooner or later ... usually later, like in the 4th quarter. SAINTS.

Dolphins (-3) at Buccaneers
AJ:
I wonder if the Dolphins will have Richie Incognito threaten to poop in the locker room water cooler to "toughen them up?" As bad as the Bucs are, the bullying fiasco that has taken center stage in Miami is sure to be a bigger distraction then Greg Schiano's god-awful coaching. BUCCANEERS.

Diego:
This Incognito-Martin story just gets more Bizarro as each day goes by, and after yesterday's comments from several Miami players you almost think that they will rally on Monday Night Football and win this one ... I just can't see it. BUCCANEERS.

Panthers at 49ers (-6)
AJ:
I could go into detail about how tough a matchup this will be...but instead, I'll point to a coaching trend. In regular season games where the 49er coaching staff has more than one week to prepare for an opponent during the Harbaugh Era, the 49ers are 5-0 (3 season openers and 2 regular season games post bye). That bodes well for the home team. 49ERS.

Diego:
Fun game, close game, balanced defense and offense ... San Francisco just presents more matchup problems for Carolina than they can handle. 49ERS.

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