CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-3)
at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Line: San Francisco -6, Total: 42.5
The NFLís two hottest teams go toe-to-toe Sunday when the Panthers visit the 49ers on Sunday afternoon.
Carolina has won four in a row (SU and ATS) by an average score of 33 to 12, while San Francisco has won five straight (SU and ATS) by an average score of 35 to 12. Both teams have scored at least 30 points in all the wins and both have at least an even turnover margin for each contest during their win streaks as well. Sunday will be the first time this series features either mobile QB Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, but the Panthers have owned the Niners since entering the NFL, going 14-3 SU (10-7 ATS), including 7-1 SU (5-3 ATS) at Candlestick Park. While both clubs are relatively free of injuries, the well-rested Niners are in better shape coming off a bye week and with the probable additions of both WR Mario Manningham (knee) and DE/LB Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks last year) returning from a suspension. Both of these clubs have extremely favorable betting trends, as Carolina is 8-0 ATS after allowing 99 rushing yards or less in two straight games since the start of 2012, while San Francisco is 14-5 ATS (74%) as a favorite of 3.5 to 9.5 points over the past three years.
Which team will extend its winning streak on Sunday? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts are heating up in NFL Best Bets, combining for a 58% ATS record (43-31-2) over the past five weeks, including 77% ATS (10-3) in Week 8. StatFox Scott is 61% ATS (11-7) in the past four weeks, while StatFox Brian went 3-1 ATS in Week 8, marking his fifth straight week of finishing .500 or better. StatFox Dave was a perfect 3-0 ATS in Week 8, as was StatFox Gary (2-0 ATS), who improved to 63% ATS (10-6-1) in NFL Best Bets over the past five weeks.
Panthers QB Cam Newton has played outstanding football during his team's win surge, completing 72.3% of his passes for 916 yards (8.2 YPA), 7 TD and 2 INT, while rushing for 128 yards and three more touchdowns. Carolina's ground game has been productive all season (130.1 YPG, 8th in NFL) and is even stronger with RB Jonathan Stewart back healthy. He made his season debut last week and picked up 43 yards on nine carries (4.8 YPC) plus another 22 yards on three receptions. He and top RB DeAngelo Williams (519 rush yards, 4.1 YPC, 1 TD) should continue to share carries for this team. But there's no big change in the passing game with Newton spreading the wealth to his top three wide receivers (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn) and top TE Greg Olsen. Each of these four pass catchers has gained more than 350 yards through the air with at least two touchdown grabs. Carolina's excellent ground game, lack of turnovers and outstanding third-down conversion rate (47%, 3rd in NFL) has led to an NFC-best 34:01 time of possession. Not being on the field very long has really helped this Carolina defense which ranks second in the NFL in scoring (13.3 PPG allowed) and third in total defense (299.9 YPG). The Panthers have also been very stingy in the red zone (39% efficiency, 3rd in NFL) because they stop the run so effectively with 79.1 rushing YPG allowed (2nd in league). Carolina has also shown the ability to make plays with at least one takeaway in all eight contests, including 3+ forced turnovers in four of the past six games, including four last week.
The Niners offense has really clicked since its 27-7 loss to the Colts in Week 3, scoring 35, 34, 32, 31 and 42 points. QB Colin Kaepernick has been the catalyst of the offensive surge in these five wins both with his arm (8.6 YPA, 6 TD, 1 INT) and his legs (165 rush yards, 6.4 YPC, 3 TD). Speaking of rushing, long-time Niners RB Frank Gore has also run extremely well for his team, picking up 476 yards on 4.5 YPC and 6 TD during the win streak. San Francisco now leads the NFL in rushing (153 YPG), which has set up the passing game nicely (7.6 net YPA, 6th in league). The addition of WR Mario Manningham should help free up top targets WR Anquan Boldin (551 rec. yards, 2 TD) and TE Vernon Davis (518 rec. yards, 7 TD) even more. The return of pass-rushing monster DE/LB Aldon Smith makes this already monstrous defense (4.99 yards per play, 6th in NFL) more ferocious. Smith's constant quarterback pressures will keep the passing yards (220.5 YPG allowed, 8th in NFL) to a minimum. San Francisco's defense has really struggled in the red zone (64%, 5th-worst in NFL), but it has given up just 18.1 PPG (4th-fewest in league) due in large part to a stingy 33% third-down efficiency rate (3rd in NFL). The Niners have also done a nice job forcing turnovers with 13 takeaways during the five-game win surge.