NFL: 49ers-Panthers preview

The Examiner breaks down the 49ers-Panthers game, including what it will take to win, the matchups, a word about the coaches, our humble predictions and broadcast information.

THREE KEYS TO A VICTORY

1. For the first time since Week 3, the 49ers are coming off a victory and will now try to start a winning streak. Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer gets the start once again. He had perhaps the best game from any Niners QB in three years, throwing for 256 yards two touchdowns and no interceptions. Carolina’s defense is beatable. And that means Dilfer must use the momentum from last week’s win against Arizona and make the most of the targets he has.

2. Niners kick-and-punt return man Michael Lewis broke for a 51-yard punt return in last week’s victory over the Cardinals. Everyone knows a big play could make or break a team. And with Lewis getting better holes as of late, he could be due to give the Niners their first touchdown return since Otis Amey did it in Week 1 in 2005 against St. Louis.

3. Despite Carolina’s underacheiving season, receiver Steve Smith is still the best in the business. Though he’s averaging just 63.7 yards per game, he also has six touchdowns. Cornerback Nate Clements must keep Smith in check.

KEY MATCHUPS

PATRICK WILLIS vs. VINNY TESTAVERDE

Willis: Nominated for Defensive Player of the Week, LB had 17 tackles and half a sack last week.

Testaverde: The 44-year-old quarterback has been practicing and will likely start. Still has a rifle of an arm.

JOE STALEY vs. JULIUS PEPPERS

Staley: Right tackle will have his hands full against Peppers, but Staley’s been steady all season.

Peppers: Left end is having a down year (averaging three tackles a game), but still dangerous.

MICHAEL LEWIS vs. JEFF KING

Lewis: Niners’ strong safety needs to be everywhere, like he was last week against Arizona.

King: Tight end could be a wild card in Panthers’ offense.Is second on the team with 39 catches.

COACHES' CORNER

In just his first game since coach Mike Nolan hired Ted Tollner to help with the offense, the results were astounding. Nolan will look for more of the same against a Carolina defense that allows 325.9 yards per game.

This hasn’t been the type of season John Fox was hoping for. Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme was lost for the season and the offense has been inconsistent. Any hopes of an NFC South title are all but lost.

THE EXAMINER PREDICTS …

What was supposed to be a battle between two teams with high goals to start the season is now a matchup between two of the league’s worst offenses. The Panthers get the nod in this one simply because they’ll make less mistakes. PANTHERS 15, 49ERS 13

49ers at Panthers

Sunday, 10 a.m.

TV: KTVU (Ch. 2)

Radio: KNBR (680 AM)

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