The Arizona Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in the league. They’ve won seven of their last eight and they’ve done one thing that no team could do for almost two years: beat the Seattle Seahawks at home. This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals for the second time this season. You can find Niners vs. Arizona Cardinals tickets here if you’re looking to attend.
This game has big implications for both teams. The 49ers need to win to try and keep alive their chances for a first round bye and a third consecutive division title and the Cardinals need to win just to have any hope of making the playoffs at all. These division rivals are two of the hottest teams in the NFL and they face off one last time before the regular season ends.
The Cardinals have one of the best defenses in the NFL. This fact was made apparent last Sunday when they were able to overcome four Carson Palmer interceptions and still beat the Seahawks in their home stadium. But the 49ers don’t need to be told this. They experienced how tough their defense was firsthand in week six of the season. In that game, Palmer threw two interceptions that gave the 49ers the ball inside of the red zone, and the Cardinals held the 49ers’ offense two three points both times. Another time in the red zone, the Cardinals picked off a tipped Colin Kaepernick pass. The 49ers don’t need to be told how stingy this defense is.
The Cardinals boast the league’s best run defense. They are allowing a mere 84.5 yards per game on the ground. Last time these two teams faced off, Frank Gore was able to surpass the 100 yard mark but 11 weeks later, running the ball is not the preferred way to score on this defense.
Throughout the season, the Cardinals have had trouble defending tight ends. Vernon Davis and the 49ers found this out when he caught eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Vernon Davis is hoping to have another career day against the Cardinals, but the Cardinals are well aware of him now.
For the last two seasons, the 49ers have had one consistent “Cardinal killer.” Michael Crabtree has absolutely abused Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals for past two years. Crabtree has racked up 27 receptions for 427 yards and four touchdowns in four career matchups against Peterson and the Cardinals. Even though he’s still recovering from an Achilles injury, Crabtree is still a threat on the field. He recorded his first 100-yard game on Monday against the Falcons and seems to be getting back into his groove.
On offense, the Cardinals aren’t really anything special. They still do have some very viable threats the 49ers have to look for. They have Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, who always seems to hurt them. Even with all these weapons, they’re about in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. But they are tied for second in one category: interceptions. Carson Palmer is tied with Geno Smith for second in the league with 21 interceptions. He threw four last week against Seattle and threw two against the 49ers earlier in the season.
The 49ers need to watch out for those players I mentioned above, but they also just need to wait for Palmer to make one of his trademarked mistakes and pounce on it. Most of the time turnovers are lucky or have to be worked hard for, but against Palmer he’s sure just to hand one over. The 49ers just have to make sure they’re there to accept it. If Palmer does give up a turnover or two, the 49ers’ offense needs to take advantage of those opportunities. They can’t flounder in the red zone like they did in the last match-up.
Winning the division is a long shot for the 49ers. Even so, on the off chance the Seahawks lose to the Rams, the 49ers need to be prepared for the scenario. Even if the Rams do lose in Seattle, it means the 49ers are going to be on the road for the entirety of the playoffs. That means they need to gain some momentum for the playoffs. They gained a lot from the last game in Candlestick on Monday, but they can’t afford to have a let down right before the playoffs begin. They need to continue peaking and ride that high throughout the whole playoffs, and that starts with beating the Cardinals in their own stadium.