LaMichael James SF 49ersThe newest addition to our team, Nick “Bay Area Intern” Schebetta, had an idea to bring back the predictions we did last year. No problem, I said. As long as we aren’t predicting a ton of games at the same time, which made the predictions posts a formatting nightmare last year, I’m cool with it.

So we’ve got six predictions here. This went pretty much exactly as I expected, with one lone Panthers dissenter (the guy who’s known for his gleeful pessimism) and a silly non-response from our resident king of snark (or maybe “court jester” would be more appropriate).

In any case, here’s what we think will happen on Sunday.

Bay Area Intern: In order to truly grasp how bizarre Week 10 was for the San Francisco 49ers, look no further than the box score. Amongst other concerns, Anthony Dixon was returning kicks the last time these two teams met. Since Week 12 however, LaMichael James has emerged as a legitimate threat as a kickoff returner, averaging 26.4 yards per return. LMJ’s clutch kickoff returns near the end of the fourth quarter in Week 17 against the Cardinals and midway through the fourth quarter against the Packers were instrumental in producing 49er victories. In what looks to be a defensive struggle once more, special teams and starting field position will be critical.

Editor’s note: the BAI even made some GIFs! I learned that LaMichael James is pretty good when he runs in a straight line, and grass fields aren’t always the same color.

Prediction: 49ers 20, Panthers 17

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Bay Area Duck Guy: Everyone is talking about how San Francisco needs to score against a strong Carolina defense. That’s true, but keep in mind this is a different offensive team from the one that lost 10-9 on Nov. 10. The real difference in that game, if you can break it down to one play, was a few missed 49er tackles on the lone touchdown scored in the game. I think the 49ers are going to score, so if San Francisco’s defense can stop the run game and Carolina can’t get anything going, the 49ers win.

Prediction: 49ers 16, Panthers 13

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Ruthless Sports Guy: One of the keys to the game is Colin Kaepernick’s third down completion percentage. We know that both of these defenses are stingy, and if the 49ers are going to deflate the Panthers, they’re going to need to keep the chains moving. If he can get seven or eight through the air or with his legs, the 49ers shouldn’t have trouble wrapping this one up.

Prediction: 49ers 20, Panthers 13

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Bay Area Stats Guy:  When the 49ers and Panthers met during the regular season, the Panthers made themselves at home in the 49ers backfield. Colin Kaepernick had no time to throw the ball and was pressured on 13 of his 31 drop-backs. What made things worse was that Kaepernick was unable to complete a single pass (not counting the interception, but that is completed to the wrong team) on any of the drop-backs where he was hurried. The 49ers passing game should get a boost with Michael Crabtree back, but it might be moot if the offensive line can’t do a better job giving Kaepernick time to make some plays.

Prediction: Panthers 20, 49ers 13

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LOL KNBR Callers: The key to this game will be making plays. Making plays is key because the team that makes the most plays this Sunday will almost certainly win the game. To do this, the 49ers will need to get the football into the hands of some of their big-time playmakers. The Panthers defense will have a plan to stop them from making plays, but the 49ers can’t let that bother them too much. They need to just focus on making plays and go out there and make plays. Also, the big fellas up front need to be tough in the trenches.

Prediction: 49ers 20, Panthers 9

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Bay Area Sports Guy: The 49ers were without Michael Crabtree for the entire game and Vernon Davis for most of it, but the last time they faced the Panthers their offensive line was M.I.A. as well. The Panthers sacked Colin Kaepernick six times and hit him seven more. Charles Johnson turned back the clock to 2010, when Anthony Davis was a rookie and struggled every week. If Davis and the rest of the o-line can split the difference between how they pass-protected last week in Green Bay and the abominable performance they put forth against Carolina in Week 10, they’ll be fine. My original score prediction was a 19-16 win for the 49ers (seven combined FGs in the game), but with everyone thinking this game will be low-scoring I have a sneaking suspicion that Greg Roman’s postseason offense will perform like they did a year ago (and the game will include two fewer field goals than my original prediction).

Prediction: 49ers 30, Panthers 27