Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said he has always been shorter, fatter and slower than the next guy.
He plays with a chip on his shoulder and runs as hard as he does because he’s had that underdog mentality for as long as he has played football, he said.
So when the Panthers – at 12-4 coming off a first-round bye, playing in front of their home crowd against a team they beat earlier in the season – were picked as the underdog in Sunday’s playoff game against San Francisco, Tolbert felt disrespected.
“I can’t speak for everybody else, but personally, yes, I do,” Tolbert said. “To me, it’s absolutely ridiculous why we’re the underdogs at home when we’re 7-1 at home, when we beat teams that are in the same caliber as San Francisco, if not better. Personally I got a bad taste in my mouth about it.”
The Panthers opened as a one-point favorite. As of Friday evening, San Francisco was still a one-point favorite. The Indianapolis-New England game is the next closest line. The Patriots are a seven-point favorite, down from 71/2.
Several other Panthers, including defensive end Greg Hardy, said they didn’t care what Las Vegas or analysts had to say about Sunday’s game.
“If you don’t stop me, I’m going to break your quarterback’s face,” Hardy said. “If he doesn’t throw it to your receivers, he’s not going to win. It depends upon who’s in the position and who wants to make the plays. It doesn’t matter what team is hot, what team is up or down, what team’s feeling sorry for themselves, what team’s the favorite. ... I ain’t been a favorite in 24 years. I’m doing great.
“That’s just people talking. Naysayers, people jabbing, even old analysts and old players talking about a game that they’re too slow to play. Congrats to them. That’s what they get paid for.”
Conventional wisdom would give the Panthers an edge based on home-field advantage, but recently that hasn’t been the edge it once was in postseason play. According to ProFootballTalk.com, teams hosting divisional round playoff games have won 56.3 percent of the time from 2005-2012. From 1990-2004, home teams won 81.7 percent of the time. Two of the website’s “old analysts,” Michael David Smith and Mike Florio, did predict the Panthers would win.
One mortgage resource company picked the 49ers to win Sunday because teams from the city with the higher mortgage rate went 4-0 in the playoffs last week. San Francisco’s 4.68 percent rate bests Charlotte’s 4.54 percent rate.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera suggested Friday one of the reasons San Francisco is favored is because of the 49ers’ playoff experience. The 49ers have been to the NFC championship game in each of the past two seasons and are coming off a win last week in Green Bay.
Rivera said he doesn’t mind going in with an underdog mentality.
“We do because we are, and that’s fine,” Rivera said. “I think the thing that we all have to understand is it’s going to come down to the actual playing of the game. For whatever reason, people want to put labels on whether you’re the favorite or the underdog. That’s a part of it.”
Michael Crabtree, who was recovering from an Achilles injury, missed the first 49ers-Panthers game. Crabtree caught eight passes for 125 yardslast week.
Tight end Vernon Davis didn’t play in the second half during the first game against the Panthers after he suffered a concussion. Those two additions have some pundits siding with the 49ers this time around.
“Their best receiver to me is Vernon Davis and he tapped out of the game,” said cornerback Drayton Florence, who added he doesn’t care who picked the team to win. “He was in there for a while but he tapped out. With that said, Crabtree is a great receiver. He’s been a great addition to them, another weapon to throw the ball to but we just got to put our hands on him at the line of scrimmage.”
Florence is part of a Panthers secondary that has felt disrespect this season as more attention was given to Carolina’s formidable front seven. Free safety Mike Mitchell said he wasn’t surprised at the perceived lack of respect this week because it’s what he has been dealing with all season.
“We embrace the role. It doesn’t mean it’s right,” Mitchell said. “You don’t ever let other people tell you who you are. You know who you are.
“We like it, though. The thing is they say these things, but we like it because it’s easy motivation for us.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9