49ers special teams vs. Panthers special teams

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I take a look at an oft-neglected match up.

Most everybody is (rightly) pointing out that today's game will be a tight one. I bet we exhaustively hear Joe Buck and/or Troy Aikman use words like "smash-mouth football" or  "hard-hitting defenses" or "look up my stats - they are good, but I might be a bit overrated." And, sports cliches aside, they will be somewhat right. Both defenses are among the leagues best because they rely upon physical play.

Conversely, the offenses are similar: both offenses want to run the ball in order to set up better play from their young, but athletically gifted, QBs.

This all naturally leads to the conclusion that today's game should be a low-scoring "slugfest." These types of games are typically decided by two factors. First, who can monopolize the rare, "big" play. In a low scoring game, the team that randomly gets the 60 yard catch that sets up a TD seems to win more often the team that has to drive down the field for a field goal. While there is hardly a weak link in Carolina's defense, I'm not sure if their secondary will be able to hold our WRs / TEs in check all game. It might be a bit homerist, but I think we can win the "big play" battle.

Secondly, Special Teams play has a big effect on close games. Fortunately for us, our Special Teams is a bit better. According to Football Outsiders DVOA rankings (which you can see here), the 49ers have the 5th best Special Teams unit, with a weighted DVOA of 6.7%. Carolina is the 12th ranked team at 1.7%.

Oddly enough, according to the breakdowns FO provides, the 49ers and the Panthers are good (and bad) at the same things, with the 49ers coming up much better in coverage than the Panthers in returning. For example, both teams provide good coverage on Kickoffs (49ers: 10.0; Panthers: 5.0) and Punts (49ers: 10.7; Panthers: 1.6) while they aren't so great  at returning the ball on Kickoffs (49ers: -4.5; Panthers: -3.0) or Punts (49ers: -3.6; Panthers: -1.0). Field Goals demonstrate a similar logic (49ers: 5.9; Panthers: 2.5). Explanations of all these numbers can be found here.

I'm not necessarily building to a huge conclusion; in fact, I think I subconsciously chose an area of the game, in which the 49ers excel, to write about just to make myself feel better. I'm sure you all are as nervous as I am. So, let this be a comfort. The play this season and the stats suggest that if the game comes down to Special Teams, the 49ers have the edge.

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