4:05 PM EST, FOX – Line: 49ers -5.5, Over/Under: 41
Two of the most surprising teams in the NFC meet in a clash by the Bay, as the surging Carolina Panthers look to continue their impromptu run against the undefeated San Francisco 49ers, from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Football is indeed a funny game, folks, for if we had told you that the Panthers (4-2, 2nd in NFC South) would have gone on a four-game winning streak following a serious foot injury to former MVP Quarterback, Cam Newton (56.2%, 572 YDS, 5.57 NY/A, 0 TD, 1 INT, 23.1 QBR), you would have undoubtedly dismissed us with a waive of the hand. However, that’s precisely what has happened to a club that has suddenly evolved into a modicum of efficiency on the strength of an unheralded Backup Quarterback, an insanely productive Tailback, and a very opportunistic Defense. First and foremost, the ascension of Kyle Allen (65.6%, 901 YDS, 6.15 NY/A, 7 TD, 0 INT, 56.3 QBR) has been the biggest story for Carolina, for in most cases, when a team loses their Franchise Passer for a prolonged period of time, it typically spells doom. However, that hasn’t been the case, for the Sophomore’s play has afforded the club with the luxury of resting Newton, who reaggravated a Lisfranc Injury to his foot that he suffered back in the Preseason, until he’s fully healthy, per Ron Rivera’s decree. And at this point, why would you want to rush him back? Ladies and gentleman, if Allen continues to play at this level and the team continues to win, there will be a very interesting debate taking place in the Offseason in regards to Newton’s place with the franchise. Granted, that’s quite a ways away, and in the meantime, it will be interesting to see if this team can keep operating in such a manner. In an abridged sample size, the 23-Year Old has been stellar within the confines of Offensive Coordinator, Norv Turner’s, scheme, completing an efficient 65.6% of his Attempts for an average of 225.3 Yards on 6.15 Net Yards per Attempt, with Seven Touchdown and most importantly, Zero Interceptions. He’s simply performed his task in managing the game, as was the case when we last saw him two weeks ago in a 37-26 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, England. In a contest in which the efficiency of the two Quarterback on the field couldn’t be in more stark contrast, Allen calmly completed 20-of-32 Passes for 227 Yards and Two Touchdowns, while his counterpart, Jameis Winston committed SIX of Tampa’s Seven Turnovers, tossing Five interceptions and losing a Fumble. This has been a huge component of their success of late, with Rivera’s Defense proving as opportunistic as ever, forcing a staggering Fourteen Turnovers during their recent winning streak, in which they’ve enjoyed a sterling Turnover Differential of Plus-9. With Fifteen Takeaways on the season (2nd Overall), the Panthers have managed to give their young Quarterback the football in some rather advantageous positions, starting at an average Field Position of the 33.2-Yard Line, which is the third-best in the NFL. Pressure oftentimes leads to Turnovers, which is the equation at play here, with Carolina totaling Twenty-Seven Sacks (1st Overall), with twelve different players dropping the Quarterback for a loss, led by veteran Defensive End, Mario Addison (12 TKL, 5 TFL, 6 QBH, 6.5 SK, 1 FF) and Rookie Edge-Rusher, Brian Burns (15 TKL, 3 TFL, 11 QBH, 4.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD), with Defensive Backs, James Bradberry (30 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 3 INT, 9 PD) and Donte Jackson (14 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 2 INT, 3 PD) reaping the rewards in the Secondary. Finally, the final component of their success has been the insane production of Christian McCaffrey (127 CAR, 618 YDS, 4.9 Y/C, 7 TD), who has developed into the league’s premier weapon out of the Backfield. The prototype of the modern Tailback, the 23-Year Old is equally adept at making plays between the Tackles as he is shredding a Linebacker in coverage, amassing 923 Total Yards and a league-best Nine Touchdowns on 162 Total Touches. Indeed, Fantasy Football owners around the world have fallen head over heels for this guy, who is by far and away the most dangerous weapon in Rivera’s arsenal, leading the team in Receptions (35) and Receiving Touchdowns (2). With that in mind, keep an eye on the Panthers, who could be a player at the Trade Deadline in an effort to add a reliable Pass-Catcher. Apart from McCaffrey, Sophomore Wideout, D.J. Moore (33 REC, 425 YDS, 12.9 Y/R, 1 TD), has been the only true threat in the Passing Game, as veteran Tight End, Greg Olsen (22 REC, 278 YDS, 12.6 Y/R, 2 TD), is starting to really show his age, as 34-Years Old.
Meanwhile, arguably the best story of this season has been resurrection of the 49ers (6-0 in NFC West), who at 6-0 are off to their best start since 1990. After two years unfortunately spent ravaged by injuries, all of the hard work that Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan, and General Manager, John Lynch, have put in is finally bearing fruit on both sides of the football, with a ground and pound Offense steamrolling opponents, and an aggressive Defense improving by leaps and bounds. So let’s start with the Offense, shall we? Long lauded as one of the top playcallers in the league, we’re finally seeing Shanahan’s vision for this unit, with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo (68.3%, 1,314 YDS, 7.26 NY/A, 7 TD, 6 INT, 59.6 QBR) efficiently managing the game behind arguably the most formidable rushing attack in the NFL. Even with both of their Offensive Tackles, Joe Staley (Shin) and Mike McGlinchey (Knee), sidelined with injuries, the Ground Game has managed to trample the opposition to the tune of 172.7 Yards per Game (2nd Overall) on 4.4 Yards per Carry (12th Overall). It’s been very much a platoon-like approach in the Backfield, where Matt Brieda (73 CAR, 411 YDS, 5.6 Y/C, 1 TD) has been the home run threat, while Offseason Acquisition, Tevin Coleman (60 CAR, 227 YDS, 3.8 Y/C, 2 TD), has been the force between the Tackles, with the unheralded, Raheem Mostert (49 CAR, 245 YDS, 5.5 Y/C, 0 TD) gaining traction when called upon. As a result, the Offense has managed to stay in very favorable Down & Distance, ranking Ninth Overall in Third Down Percentage (45.1%). Of course, this really made it easy for Garoppolo to slide back into his role with the club after missing all but two games in 2018 with a torn ACL. While the statistics will tell you that he’s been little more than very good Game Manager thus far with Niners, the 28-Year Old has shown flashes of why Shanahan insisted on moving mountains to acquire him two years ago. Smart, technical, and accurate, the former New England Patriot, and the Offense as a whole, would benefit greatly from the addition of top-tier receiving threat; with the exception of Pro-Bowl Tight End, George Kittle (34 REC, 376 YDS, 11.1 Y/R, 1 TD), Shanahan has had to largely manufacture the passing attack off of the running game, with the likes of Marquise Goodwin (11 REC, 181 YDS, 16.5 Y/R, 1 TD), Dante Pettis (9 REC, 83 YDS, 9.2 Y/R, 1 TD), and Rookie, Deebo Samuel (15 REC, 168 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 1 TD) comprising a group of targets that could certainly use a boost. Apparently, Lynch must be an avid reader of this site, for on Tuesday the 49ers sent 3rd and 4th Round Picks in the 2020 NFL Draft for the services of veteran Receiver, Emmanuel Sanders (30 REC, 367 YDS, 12.2 Y/R, 2 TD), along with a 5th Round Pick. At 31-Years Old, the two-time Pro-Bowler should have plenty of gas left in the tank to upgrade what has been a very underwhelming Receiving Corps . And you know what hasn’t been underwhelming? The Defense, which under Defensive Coordinator, Robert Saleh, has been downright violent this season. With six games in the books, the 49ers have allowed just 10.7 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on 223.5 Total Yards (2nd Overall), including 133.5 Yards against the Pass (25th Overall) on 4.3 Net Yards per Attempt (6th Overall), and another 90.0 Yards versus the Run (2nd Overall) on 4.1 Yards per Carry (12th Overall), while permitting a Third Down Conversion Percentage of 30.0% (3rd Overall), and a Red Zone Percentage of 23.1% (2nd Overall). Indeed, all of those First Round Picks along the Defensive Line have matured, even the youngest of the group, Nick Bosa (16 TKL, 8 TFL, 10 QBH, 4.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR), who was selected No. 2 Overall in the 2019 NFL Draft; at just 22-Years Old, the Ohio State product leads the unit in Tackles for Loss (8) and Quarterback Hits (10). Similar to the Panthers, they’ve also been adept at getting their hands on the football, forcing Thirteen Turnovers (4th Overall), which has already eclipsed the meager total of seven that they produced a year ago.