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49ers pay back Panthers, get to pay back Seahawks next

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The San Francisco 49ers have faced a slew of familiar foes on their playoff route. The 49ers got to face a Carolina Panthers team on Jan. 12 that beat them two months ago, after beating the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs for the second straight year. But after San Francisco took care of Carolina by 23-10, the 49ers will get to play their most familiar foe of all in Seattle for another Super Bowl berth.

The 49ers had a chance to blow past the Panthers early, but settled for two field goals in their opening drives. Once Carolina and Cam Newton rounded themselves out, the Panthers could have blown San Francisco away, but only got a combined three points on two drives that ended at the goal line. Yet when the 49ers finally got into the end zone on a Vernon Davis grab with seconds left in the first half, the tide turned for good.

The 49ers kept the momentum going in the third when Colin Kaepernick ran into the end zone. The Panthers responded by keeping the ball for over eight minutes in their next drive, only to not even get a field goal chance after two straight sacks. At that point, it was clear that even a mere 20-10 deficit was insurmountable for Carolina.

By the time the Panthers were swept away by 23-10, the 49ers could look ahead to their next grudge match. It may be the grudge match of the year, given how San Francisco gets to face arch-rival Seattle for the third time, with the Super Bowl on the line. Although the 49ers did beat the Seahawks in San Francisco this year, they have been blown out in Kaepernick's two starts at Seattle.

Since the Seahawks have actually lost a game in Seattle this season and had to hold off the New Orleans Saints late on Jan. 11, perhaps they are more vulnerable at home now. Technically, the 49ers are much hotter, having now won eight games in a row and two playoff games on the road. And despite the Seahawks' home field advantage, the 49ers won last year's NFC title on the road against an Atlanta Falcons club that had barely lost in the Georgia Dome.

San Francisco and Carolina played a chippy game with constant hard hits -- yet it only served as an undercard for 49ers-Seahawks III.

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