The San Francisco 49ers slipped by the Green Bay Packers Sunday afternoon/evening, and now advance to face the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round. The 49ers came into the playoffs hot, and they remain hot for their second round matchup. And yet, as hot as they are, they face a brutal road if they want to get to Super Bowl XLVIII.
If the 49ers can beat the Panthers, they would then face either the Seattle Seahawks or New Orleans Saints. If the Saints somehow upset the Seahawks, the 49ers would get to host the NFC Championship Game. While the Saints can win next week in Seattle, I'm not one to hold my breath for it. They are not as bad as they looked in their last loss to Seattle, and Seattle is not as good as they were compared to the Saints in that game. That being said, there is a lot of ground between how bad the Saints looked, and how good the Seahawks looked.
Assuming the Seahawks take care of their business, the 49ers would then have to travel to the Pacific Northwest. They have dropped their last two up there. Last year it was an ugly beatdown. This year, the final score wasn't quite indicative of the teams, but the 49ers offense could not have looked a whole lot worse. If the 49ers can beat the Panthers and Seahawks after winning in Lambeau in historically cold weather, they will have gone through as difficult a path as anybody has in some time to get to the Super Bowl.
I don't want this misconstrued as overlooking the Panthers. They are a very good football team that has beaten a lot of good football teams this year. I think the 49ers can win this game, but that Panthers defense is tough, and Cam Newton is a serious weapon. The Panthers are getting healthy at the right time, with reports of Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart both potentially back this week. This game could be a grind-it-out dogfight. I'd love for an easy win, but I certainly am not counting on anything of the sort.
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