Panthers' pivotal front-line play

Star Lotulelei and the Panthers' front line have consistently harassed QBs this season. Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers enter the divisional round of the playoffs coming off a 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers that has some pundits calling them the hottest team in the NFL. That's news to the Carolina Panthers, who have won 11 of their past 12 games, with their only loss on the road to playoff-bound New Orleans Saints. The Panthers have also beaten the Saints in that stretch, along with victories over other playoff teams such as the Patriots and, yes, the 49ers.

Carolina dominated Colin Kaepernick in Week 10, limiting him to 11-of-22 passing for only 91 yards, with a half-dozen sacks. That performance was no fluke. Carolina's defense has been one of the best in football all year, and its specific strengths and tendencies seem designed to exploit the cracks in San Francisco's offense.