Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against the San Francisco 49ers:
1. A 49ers defender will be flagged for a hit on Cam Newton.
Because that’s how it works in the NFL, where much like Newton’s third law (no relation), every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Or something. Given all the hue and cry after Denver’s piñata treatment of Newton in Week 1, officials will be watching San Francisco’s defensive players like a hawk any time they get close. The guess here that someone will go a little too high or too late on Newton and pay the penance for the uncalled penalties from last week.
2. Newton will look to get all his receivers involved in the passing game.
See above RE: action and reaction. Newton welcomed Kelvin Benjamin back in Week 1 by throwing 12 passes his favorite target’s way. Benjamin caught six of them for 91 yards and a touchdown. But the rest of the wideouts went missing in Denver’s thin air.
Newton says he won’t force the ball to anyone, and the 49ers’ scheme will dictate a lot of Newton’s reads. But expect Newton to distribute the ball more evenly among Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Philly Brown and Ted Ginn Jr., who loves facing his former team.
3. There will be batted passes.
San Francisco’s defensive line has 6-7 Arik Armstead, 6-3 Mike Purcell and 6-5 Quinton Dial anchoring the 3-4 alignment, a pretty tall group. But, Newton said this week, “We’re not playing basketball here. I’m just trying to win football games.”
When the 49ers have the ball, the Panthers’ defensive linemen also have to get their hands up against Blaine Gabbert, who released the ball quickly to beat the Rams’ rush in Week 1. Batted balls often become caroms that are intercepted. Ask Thomas Davis, who had one against Trevor Siemian in Denver.
4. San Francisco will crease the Panthers’ run defense a couple of times.
The Panthers worked on their run fits this week after the Broncos had a couple of long runs. Gap responsibility is critical in Sean McDermott’s 4-3 scheme. Tackling is important in any scheme, and the Panthers weren’t particularly good at it last week, especially in the back end. Carlos Hyde and former UNC back Shaun Draughn will get their yards, but Luke Kuechly and Co. won’t give up as many chunk plays.
5. Ultimately, the Panthers will be celebrating after their home opener.
Ron Rivera complained last week about having to play the Broncos on a short week. But that means the Panthers had nine days to prepare for the 49ers, who really were rooked by the schedule-makers. San Francisco played Monday night, then had a cross-country flight four days later for a game that will start at 10 a.m. Pacific time. In the same Week 2 scenario last year, but the Niners lost 43-18 at Pittsburgh. It won’t be that bad, but it won’t be all that close either. Carolina 27, San Francisco 13.
49ers at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Sunday, 1 p.m.