Arizona Cardinals vs San Francisco 49ers
At 1-3, both the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers face early must-win games if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. For Arizona, this season has been a major disappointment thus far. After finishing 13-3 last season and reaching the NFC Championship game, the Cardinals look like a shell of that team. The offense is struggling to sustain drives and the defense can’t get off the field in key situations. Carson Palmer being out for this game certainly doesn’t bode well for them on Thursday night.
As for the 49ers, they are who we thought they were, to quote the late Dennis Green. We knew coming into this season that the Niners would struggle in Chip Kelly’s first season.
San Francisco doesn’t have the talented roster it had three years ago. Offensively, the skill isn’t there and the only hold over along the offensive line is left tackle Joe Staley. Defensively, the Niners have talent, but they have been dogged by inconsistency thus far. The season-ending Achilles injury to NaVorro Bowman will only worsen that.
Here are the keys to victory for both teams.
Cardinals Keys to Victory
1. Drew Stanton Must Play Well: Backup quarterback Drew Stanton will get the start in place of the injured Carson Palmer. Palmer is in the NFL’s Concussion Protocol and is out this game. Stanton must be patient in the pocket, take what the 49ers give him, and take care of the football.
2. Run the Football: The Cardinals need more balance on offense. Running back David Johnson is arguably the most versatile back in the NFL. He is big and can take the pounding at 6-1, 220 pounds. The Cardinals need to run the football more and give Johnson an opportunity to wear the San Francisco defense down.
3. Play With Confidence on Defense: The Cardinals have lost their edge defensively. They need to start playing with more confidence. This is a good week to get back on track. The 49ers have struggled on offense thus far this season, especially quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Cardinals need to put pressure on Gabbert and force into some bad decisions. Gabbert is prone to turning the ball over.
49ers Keys to Victory
1. Get Carlos Hyde the Ball More: Carlos Hyde is the centerpiece of the 49ers offense. It is imperative that Chip Kelly gets him going early by calling his number. The Niners must run Hyde early in this game and set a physical tone. If San Francisco can pound the ball on the ground, they can control the clock and control the game.
2. Get Consistent Pressure On Stanton: San Francisco’s front seven must get consistent pressure on Drew Stanton and force him into bad throws. They cannot allow him to get comfortable in the pocket and throw the ball vertically down field. The Niners secondary doesn’t match up well with the Cardinals receivers, so the front seven must get in Stanton’s face all night.
3. The Passing Game Must Produce: The 49ers need to get more out of their passing game if they want to win this game. Blaine Gabbert needs to start making plays in the passing game, especially if he wants to hold on to his starting job. San Francisco has a hard time generating explosive plays on offense. They are going to need to make a handful of them if they want to win this game.
Point Spread: Arizona -4
Moneyline: Arizona -200, San Francisco +175
Both teams face a must win situation in this game. A 1-4 record all but ends any hope of making the playoffs. The loser would have to go on Kansas City Chiefs type run and win 10 or 11 games in a row in order to get into the playoffs. I don’t see either team playing that well the rest of the way. I like Arizona in this game. The Cardinals are the better team and they know what’s at stake long term. They’ll win this game by two scores.
Pick: Arizona Cardinals: 31, San Francisco 49ers: 17