With the final regular season game coming to fruition, the San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) find themselves controlling their own destiny. Should the Niners beat the Arizona Cardinals (5-10) on Sunday, it will assure them of their second consecutive NFC West crown.
Furthermore, should the Green Bay Packers (11-4) lose to the Minnesota Vikings (9-6) it will catapult the 49ers to that coveted number two playoff seed. However, none of this matters if the 49ers don’t win on Sunday, simply making it a must win game.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, the 49ers must take care of business at home. In order for San Francisco to host a playoff game, they must first beat Arizona. The team that looked like a playoff contender early on quickly turned into the laughingstock of the NFC West after losing ten of their last 11 games. Yes, I’m talking about the Arizona Cardinals.
Their quarterback situation this year has been a game of musical chairs, as they started Josh Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and now Brian Hoyer. That’s right, Brian Hoyer. You may be asking yourself, Brian who? And for good reason, as Hoyer has barely played in the NFL, throwing only 62 passes.
So with Hoyer making his first career start, this should be a cake walk for the 49ers, right?
Think again. In the Niners last two meetings, their defense has yielded 76 points. It doesn’t matter if it’s Tom Brady or Russell Wilson, the bottom line, if the 49ers hope to go deep into the playoffs, they need to contain these caliber of quarterbacks
With Hoyer under center, look for 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to devise a game plan targeted to exploit Hoyer’s inexperience. It may include a number of disguised blitz packages or drop-backs, but whatever the plan may be, you can expect a good amount of pressure to be applied. And that’s where outside linebacker Aldon Smith comes into play.
Smith, who is having a career-year with 19.5 sacks, is within striking distance of the NFL’s single season sack record set by former defensive end Michael Strahan. Expect Aldon to be gunning for the record and play a full game despite the score. I expect him to get at least two sacks before halftime, so hopefully he can pull it off before the game’s over.
Another record that may be broken comes from within the organization, as running back Frank Gore has the opportunity to become the 49ers all-time rushing touchdown leader. Unlike Aldon, Gore’s feat is a little easier to obtain as he only needs one rushing touchdown to sit atop the record books. Look for him to break it and have some sort of ceremony on the jumbo-tron paying tribute to his 49ers career.
With all the talk surrounding Aldon Smith and Frank Gore, little attention has been given to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. In fact, Crabtree has the opportunity to do something no other 49er has done since 2003, and that’s obtain 1,000 yards receiving. The player known for his “crab-shake” dance only needs 67 yards to hit the milestone. However, he is going to be matched-up against cornerback Patrick Peterson, who will be out to redeem himself after being brutally picked on in their first meeting, making this milestone exciting to watch.
The game itself should be easy, but the Arizona Cardinals shouldn’t be taken lightly. Expect a blowout victory with the 49ers winning convincingly 38-10.