1. Mirror image: The Panthers (12-4) proved they were legitimately good this season with a 10-9 victory at San Francisco on Nov. 10. To prove they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they must get past the 49ers again. This arguably was the toughest of the three opponents Carolina could have drawn, as the teams are almost mirror images of each other. Both have an athletic quarterback -- Carolina in Cam Newton and San Francisco in Colin Kaepernick -- who can beat you with his legs as well as his arm. Both have a solid running game, with Carolina eighth in the NFL and San Francisco third. Both have a stout defense, Carolina second and San Francisco fifth, built around stopping the run first. This one should be just as close and physical as the first.
2. Contain Colin: Minutes after rushing seven times for 98 yards and throwing for 227 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 victory over Green Bay, Kaepernick was asked what he thought about the rematch with Carolina. "That we owe them for the first time they came to our house," he told Fox Sports. The Panthers won at Candlestick Park in large part because they contained Kaepernick. They held him to 16 yards on four rushes and 91 yards passing. They sacked him six times. He was 0-for-6 on throws of more than 10 yards, the first time he's failed to complete a deep pass with multiple attempts in his career. For the first time this season, he was held without an official scramble, and he was 0-for-4 with two sacks when he did escape the pocket. San Francisco's 151 total yards were its fewest since Week 9 of 2006. The Panthers, who have 15 sacks in their past two games, likely will need to duplicate that to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
3. Flair controversy: The Panthers have been using professional wrestler Ric Flair's famous "WOOOOOOO" chant as part of their locker room celebration much of the season. It's become so big that cornerback Drayton Florence, who started the chant with the defensive backs before it caught on with the rest of the team, has been looking for a way to get "The Nature Boy" to give a motivational speech before the upcoming game. Florence, safety Mike Mitchell and corner Captain Munnerlyn taped this past week a "WOOOOOOO" pump-it-up video to play on the giant video screen before the game. Now we find out that Flair, who lives in Charlotte, gave the 49ers a motivational speech in their hotel the night before the Green Bay game. During the speech, Flair said his heart was with the 49ers all the way to the end. This could get touchy. Fortunately for Carolina, it has won seven straight at home since a 12-7 loss to Seattle in the season opener, so it can depend on the home crowd more than the hometown Nature Boy.