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Game Scout: Panthers at 49ers

The SportsXchange

Carolina Panthers (5-3) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Candlestick Park, San Francisco TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Dick Stockton, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

*Keys to the game: The 49ers have been re-dedicated to the ground game during their five-game winning streak, setting the stage for a physical clash with Carolina's stout front seven. The Panthers rank second in the league in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and rushing defense (79.1 yards per game) and the no-name secondary has held up well. The few exceptions have been against mobile quarterbacks such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and Buffalo's EJ Manuel. If the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick can break containment, the Panthers will be exposed to big plays. San Francisco also expects an immediate contribution from WR Mario Manningham in his season debut. What the Panthers' offense lacks in glitz it more than makes up for by avoiding mistakes. Carolina is plus-eight in turnover margin and generally wins time of possession on the strength of its eighth-ranked ground game. QB Cam Newton doesn't push the ball down the field often, but he does have 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions during the team's four-game winning streak.

*Matchup to watch - Panthers RG Nate Chandler vs. 49ers DLs Ray McDonald/Glenn Dorsey: Chandler, a converted defensive tackle, is expected to be the team's third different starting right guard thi season with Chris Scott (sprained knee) uncertain.

*Player spotlight - Panthers WR Ted Ginn: The former 49er has been a surprise factor in Carolina's offense with 21 catches for 367 yards this season.

*Fast facts: The Panthers' 24-point average margin of victory is best in the NFL, followed by the 49ers at 19.82. ... Kaepernick has a passer rating of 112.0 in blitz situations, which ranks No. 3 in the NFL behind Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

A true litmus test for the Panthers, whose five wins have come against teams with a combined 8-33 record. Carolina's defense keeps it in every game, but the offense lacks the firepower to upset a title contender on a cross-country road trip.

*Our pick: 49ers 23-17
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