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D is key: First team to 17 will win Panthers-49ers matchup

It has been a long time since a Panthers contest has had a “big-game” feel, but it’s about to happen twice in an eight-day span.

As I’ve said before, the Panthers need to at least split these two upcoming games – at San Francisco Sunday and at home vs. New England on “Monday Night Football” on Nov. 18. Going into the final six games of the season at 6-4 makes the 10-6 record likely needed to ensure a playoff berth much more possible.

Of the two opponents, I think the 49ers are slightly better. Carolina will really have its hands full with the NFL’s No.1 rushing offense, paced by running back Frank Gore. The 49ers’ defense is also incredibly stout, which is a big reason why San Francisco has won its past five games by 24, 31, 12, 14 and 32 points.

Of course, the Panthers are on their own four-game winning streak, and they have won those games by huge margins as well. Both of these teams have scored at least 30 points in at least their last four games, but I don’t see either one doing that Sunday. The defenses are just too good. I think the first team to get to 17 will win.

Smith was a rookie that year and was only used as a kick returner – that’s how long ago it was.


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