By: Daisy Barringer
Ugh, is there anything worse than a Bye week? I didn’t feel like going to a bar last Sunday and the only games on were KC/Buffalo and then the Raiders (gross), so I actually ended up OUTSIDE. ON A SUNDAY. Weird, I know. It was fine for one day, but thank god Niners football is back so I can get back to focusing on what’s really important: Winning.
Which, my friends, is going to be a little tougher than I anticipated at the beginning of the season. This Carolina team is, well, kind of tough. Let’s break it down.
The 49ers are coming off of a bye week. Lots of rest. Lots of time to get healthy. Lots of time to really study this team and form a solid game plan.
Home field advantage. The Niners haven’t had a game at home in what feels like weeks. People will be excited to get out on a beautiful Sunday and kick some ass. Let’s just hope it’s not mine this time.
Aldon Smith is back. I mean, sure, he’ll be a little rusty, but whatever. It’s Aldon Smith. Presumably, he has his drinking and alleged ecstasy problem (the latter according to a friend of a friend who knows him) under control and is ready to dominate. He won’t get full starter reps, but look for him to contribute.
Colin Kaepernick. Kap and Cam are friends, but let’s not pretend like Kap doesn’t have something to prove considering Cam Newton was taken first in the 2011 draft and Kap was taken 36th. Both QBs will have to perform when throwing the ball, however, as they’re both up against pretty stellar pass defenses.
Mario Manningham is expected to play. This is huge because the Niners might have some issues running the ball (see: Carolina’s Run Defense in “The Bad). Manningham has been practicing and Kap claims he’s easy to throw to, so let’s hope these two can connect.
Cam Newton. Personally, I thought Cam Newton was going to be a bit of a bust. Turns out dude just needed some time to come into his own. They’re on a four-game winning streak and Newton’s had some stellar QB ratings (143.4 against Minnesota four weeks ago). The good news - those wins came against the Vikings, Rams, Bucs, and Falcons. And he had two INTs against Atlanta last week.
Carolina’s Run Defense. The Niners are winning because they’ve been running the ball. Only problem? The Panthers have the No. 2 run defense in the NFL.
The Rest of It
The Return Game. Who’s going to be returning punts and kickoffs? Kyle Williams? LaMichael James? We’re not going to know until Sunday, but whether or not Harbaugh will admit there’s a “returner controversy,” there seems to be one. (Related: if LaMike doesn’t get the ball soon, he might literally explode.)
Hazing. There’s been a lot of talk about hazing this week, thanks to Dolphin’s guard Richie Incognito and his super racist a-hole ways. I’m proud to say this is not an issue for the 49ers. Bill Walsh banned hazing back in the day and Harbaugh also does not permit that type of behavior. Personally, I’ve been sickened by former players/current commentators who’ve been making the excuse that it’s “just the way it is in the NFL.” Just because something happens doesn’t make it right.
Finally: I think this is going to be a tough game, but the 49ers are going to pull it out because they’ll be able to throw the ball if the Panthers manage to shut down the run.
Watch SAN FRANCISCO vs. Carolina on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. PT on FOX.