I watched last week's 49er-Panthers game on NFL rewind and came away with a slightly different opinion than what I have been hearing about the Panthers defense.
The Panthers actually were not able to stop the 49ers from running. SF rushed only 24 times but gained 4.4 yards per carry for a total of 105 yards. Gore was gashing through the Carolina front line at a clip of 5.1 yards a pop. But they only handed the ball to him a grand total of 16 times.
However, the passing game was a different story. Amazingly, the 49ers gained only 2.1 yards per completed pass!!!! To make it worse, they only completed 11 of 22 passes for a grand total of 46 yards! It gets even worse than that, believe it or not, they were able to muster only 22 actual pass throws out of a total of 46 pass attempts - the rest were sacks or throwaways. These are the worst passing statistics I can remember in a very long time. Now Kaepernick had a very bad game as a passer but he was helped along by a fearsome Panthers' pass rush all game long.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers were anemic at best. Newton completed 50% of his passes for 169 yards and they rushed for a mere 3.1 yards per carry for 109 yards.
The difference was that the Panthers converted 7 of 17 3rd downs to SF's 2 of 13. That kept the chains moving a bit more for the Panthers and gave them a TOP advantage. Harbaugh's play-calling was uncharacteristically conservative as well. They were ahead 6-0 and on the Panthers' 2 yard line, I think, with a 3rd and less than a foot, and he elected to kick a field goal rather than handing it off to Gore.
If the Patriots' offensive line can pass block better (not easy against this defense) than the 49ers did and give Brady a bit of time to throw to Amendola/Gronk/Vereen/Dobson, and Ridley and Blount can run the ball 30+ times, they have a pretty good shot of getting 24-30 points on the Panthers. From what I saw, unless Williams, Stewart and Newton run wild all day (and they could on our run-porous defense) to control the game clock and keep Brady off the field, it's hard to believe Newton's arm can answer 24+ points.