Is the 49ers-Panthers game the best of Week 8?

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers won ugly against the Redskins in Week 7, but they’ll need to play with more style to win their marquee clash against the Panthers on Sunday.

There are exactly two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. At 7-0, everyone already has the Patriots pencilled in for another Super Bowl title. The 49ers, in sharp contrast, still have hordes of doubters around the league in spite of their spotless 6-0 record.

Last week’s 9-0 win against the hapless Redskins didn’t earn Kyle Shanahan’s team any extra plaudits. San Francisco did what they needed to do to escape Washington with a victory, but they didn’t look good doing it. Fortunately for Jimmy Garoppolo and his teammates, they’ve got a chance to score a major victory in Week 8.

On Sunday they’ll host the Panthers in what should be the most captivating game of the weekend. The Panthers may only be 4-2, but that’s quite an accomplishment given the number of games they’ve played without Cam Newton. Ironically, Ron Rivera’s team is 0-2 when Newton starts and 4-0 when Kyle Allen begins the game under center.

That four game winning streak has Carolina right back into the thick of the NFC Playoff race. They are however, already trailing the Saints by one and a half games in the NFC South. If the Panthers lose at San Francisco on Sunday, they may be relegated to chasing a Wild Card berth for the remainder of the season.

Anyone expecting to see a ton of fireworks in this game is setting themselves up for serious disappointment. Each team has ridden the excellent play of their respective defensive lines for much of their season’s success. San Francisco’s overall defense ranks second in the NFL in terms of Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. The Panthers only rank ninth, but their front does lead the NFL in sacks with 27. Points are going to come at real premium in this matchup.

The 49ers will look for Garoppolo to finally produce the sort of breakout performance they’ve been waiting for all season. He’s been decidedly average in terms of leading Shanahan’s offense this season. The fact that San Francisco remains undefeated with quarterback who’s only thrown seven touchdowns against six interceptions is a testament to just how good every other phase of their team has been.

The Panthers coaching staff will go out of their way to avoid putting their young signal caller under significant pressure. Instead, they will do their level-headed best to make running back Christian McCaffrey the focal point of their attack. McCaffrey is one of the most talented backs in the game, but the 49ers have the talent up front to force Carolina into throwing the ball downfield. That will, of course, bring the battle between San Francisco’s talented pass rush and the Panthers offensive line to the forefront.

One other subplot you should keep an eye on during this game is the return of Panthers safety Eric Reid to San Francisco. He didn’t leave the franchise on good terms after he was let go due to his National Anthem protests. He’s avoided engaging in any trash talk about the 49ers this week, but he’s also been quoted as saying that he hasn’t forgotten about the circumstances surrounding his departure from his old team.

Next: Kyle Allen has officially stolen Cam Newton’s job

Add it all up and you’ve got plenty of tactical and emotional intrigue heading into this game. It’s the best match-up of Week 8 and the team that emerges victorious will really raise its stock around the NFL.

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