So where will Sundays game be won or lost?
By the two quarterbacks, the two defenses and the two players whose names we dont know yet.
Carolinas Cam Newton and San Franciscos Colin Kaepernick will be the acknowledged stars on Sunday, and much of their teams fortunes will depend on how they do.
But its not all about the quarterbacks. These are two of the three best defenses in the NFL (with Seattle being the other). The Panthers were No. 1 in the NFL in sacks and No. 2 in scoring defense and total defense. The 49ers were No. 3 in scoring defense. Not only do these defenses make you punt frequently, but they often cause the sort of turnover mayhem that decides a playoff game.
And then theres the X factor. Every big game has a couple of players emerge who you werent sure could handle this big of a stage the guy who recovers the fumbled punt or comes in as the sixth defensive back and makes the big interception. A couple of those players will tilt the balance Sunday.
• To say interest in the Panthers first playoff game in five years is high would be quite an understatement. Not only were the single-game tickets gone in three minutes, but I have received calls I have never gotten before this week.
My colleagues at the Observer and myself do a fair amount of sports radio guest spots when asked to do so, but mostly for radio stations in the Carolinas. This time I went on what the producers assured me was the No. 1 sports radio show in Dublin, Ireland. They called the host a presenter. And the presenter actually asked a number of knowledgeable questions about Riverboat Ron Rivera and Newtons development. I spoke Southern, he spoke Irish, and we got along fine.
• Lets move on to the prediction.
Ten points wont be sufficient to win this game. The Panthers cant get away with another 10-9 victory, as they did two months ago. San Francisco has wide receiver Michael Crabtree back, and covering him will be a key for the Panthers Legion of Whom secondary that has to prove itself one more time.
I think the Panthers defense is ultimately just a bit better, but Newton will have to play as well as Kaepernick does. If he doesnt, the Panthers will lose. If he does and those two young stars cancel each other out, the Panthers should have just enough.
My prediction: Carolina 20, San Francisco 16.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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