Confident Panthers ready for rematch with San Fran

nfl-Cam-Newton-PanthersThe NFC South champion Carolina Panthers join the postseason party next weekend by playing host to the San Francisco 49ers, who escaped a wild-card war in Green Bay with a final-play field goal, 23-20.

Kickoff at Bank of America Field in Charlotte, N.C., is 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday.

This is a rematch of a Nov. 10 game in San Francisco when the Panthers gained serious attention by coming back from a 9-0 deficit to beat the reigning NFC champs, 10-9.

Although it was an ugly game, it was a statement that the Panthers needed as they had been 2-14 in their previous 16 games decided by a touchdown or less. Since that win, Carolina is 5-0 in close games.

The more veteran 49ers now come into this divisional battle on the heels of winning two consecutive games with a field goal on the last play — also winning at Arizona to close out the regular season on a game-winning kick by Phil Dawson.

These two teams are somewhat of a mirror image. On offense they each have athletic quarterbacks who can run or pass, Carolina with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft in Cam Newton and San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick, the No. 36 player selected in the same draft.

On defense each team has great linebackers led by second-year phenomenon Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis for the Panthers, while the 49ers have Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith.

After their regular-season game, Newton acknowledged the importance of that win at that time.

“This game is a maturity jump for us, because in the past what I’ve been a part of, we’ve been somewhat uncertain of how we will turn out in these types of games,” Newton said. “We needed that type of game, just to be in a dog fight, in somewhat of a barnburner, to show what type of team this really is.”

Kaepernick went 11-for-22 for 91 yards with an interception and was sacked six times for a 42.0 passer rating. Newton was only slightly better, going 16 of 32 for 169 yards, an interception and four sacks for a 52.7 rating.

Those number reflected each team has a defense that can take control even of a potentially prolific offense. The rematch is expected to be a low-scoring, physical affair.

One of the big early keys will be how Newton performs out of the gate in his first career playoff game.

“This is going to be a new venture for me, and I’m going to try to make the most of it,” Newton said during the team’s bye week. “We have to worry about ourselves first. I feel as if when we’re playing at our best, there’s really no team that can stop us.”

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