San Francisco hosts the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 on Sunday and the 49ers are looking to guarantee themselves at least one home game in the playoffs. The Cardinals will be trying to play spoiler and end what has become a miserable season on a high note.
These two teams met earlier this season in Arizona, and the 49ers came away with an easy 24-3 victory. The two looked to be the top contenders for the NFC West crown early in the season, but the Cardinals have struggled since September.
Meet the 49ers
The 49ers hold a 10-4-1 record with one game left in the season, and they need a win over Arizona to guarantee an NFC West title and a chance at a first-round bye. San Francisco is coming off a blowout loss at the hands of the Seahawks and is just a half game ahead of Seattle with one to play.
Colin Kaepernick has taken over at quarterback for the 49ers down the stretch and has performed well. He has a strong, accurate arm and is also a threat to take off and pick up yardage on the ground at any time. The combination of Kaepernick and stud running back Frank Gore has given San Francisco a solid offense to pair with its elite defense that ranks second in points allowed.
Meet the Cardinals
Arizona got off to a fast start in 2012, winning each of its first four games. Since then, the Cardinals have won just once in their last 11 contests and have fallen to 5-10 on the year. The quarterback position has been at the center of their struggles, and they may see a fourth different starter this weekend.
The Cardinals do have an impressive pass defense, so they are always a threat to keep the game close. Patrick Peterson is a talented corner on the outside, and he has seven interceptions on the year. At linebacker, Daryl Washington has amassed 123 tackles and nine sacks.
Local Takes: 49ers
David Fucillo from 49ers blog Niners Nation says San Francisco will likely stick to the ground game:
I imagine we will see a lot of Frank Gore and LaMichael James, and potentially even some Anthony Dixon mixed in. The Cardinals rush defense has been rather brutal, ranked No. 28 in yards per game, and No. 20 in DVOA. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combined for 26 carries in the Week 8 Monday Night Football game in Glendale, Arizona. Colin Kaepernick will get his chances in the passing game, but I think the 49ers will be trying early and often to establish the run.
Local Takes: Cardinals
Jess Root of Cardinals blog Revenge of the Birds is glad to see Arizona's top cornerback get some recognition:
This will probably and hopefully be the first of many trips to Honolulu as a cornerback. Next year, the goal will be to make it as a starter. But even better would be to be named a starter but be unable to participate because the Cardinals are in the Super Bowl.
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pro bowl voting is not fair, some choices outrageous. But it gave me something other than "who is starting QB this week" story to write.— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) December 27, 2012
Joel Thorman thinks the Niners will clinch the division in his Week 17 NFL picks.
Think back to Week 4. The Cardinals were 4-0, leading the division. The 49ers were 3-1, looking like one of the NFL's best teams. This was once considered a great match-up. Arizona decided to go ahead and screw that up, losing nine-straight games after that. San Francisco, still hoping for a first-round bye, still has something to play for.
The pick: 24-6, 49ers
The Niners are favored by between 16½ and 17½ points, according to Odds Shark.
The Cardinals will begin their offseason. San Francisco could be facing a playoff game or a bye week, depending on Sunday's results.