NFL Week 17/Game 16 San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

When: Sunday December 29th at 1:25pm PT/2:25pm MT (in Arizona)

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

TV: FOX (regional-Northern/Central California; all of Arizona; Reno, NV, Medford Ore., Salt Lake City, Utah)

Northern/Central California: KTVU 2 San Francisco; KTXL 40 Sacramento; KMPH 26 Fresno; KCVU 20 Chico-Redding; KBVU 28 Eureka; KBFX 58 Bakersfield

Arizona Region: KSAZ 10 Phoenix; KMSB 11 Tucson; KECY 9 Yuma, Az/El Centro, Ca.

Direct TV Sunday Ticket: Channel 712

Announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

Regular Season Ends- The 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals renew their NFC West Division rivalry as the two teams meet to close out the 2013 regular season in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. The 49ers this past Monday night withstood a crazy comeback attempt by the Atlanta Falcons in a game that gave them quite the litmus test. NaVorro Bowman’s pick-six returned 89 yards for a touchdown secured the 49ers 34-24 victory. Last Sunday the Cardinals played maybe one of the best games in the franchises 25 years in Arizona with a major upset of the Seahawks in Seattle 17-10. Despite throwing four interceptions Cardinals QB Carson Palmer got off the mat each time and threw harder punches at the Seahawks league leading defense. Meanwhile the Seahawks defense was extremely impressive holding Seattle to their lowest point total of the season and lowest home game point total in two years. The Cardinals are lead by Head Coach Bruce Arians and have been the second hottest team in the NFL winning seven of their last eight games. Despite this the Cardinals still find themselves on the outside looking in as far as the post season is concerned. It is actually possible for the Cardinals to finish 11-5 and still miss the post season (if the Cardinals were in the NFC East or North, they would have had those divisions won a few weeks ago). Arians has a plan and the Cardinals are totally buying into it. If the Cardinals make the post season they will be one of those teams you may not want to play. If the Cardinals don’t make the post season they will be most certainly one of the teams to watch in 2014. The 49ers know coming into the game there is no off week here. The Cardinals are much improved from the last time these two clubs got together at Candlestick Park in Week 6. On October 13th the 49ers got quite the challenge from the red birds before pulling away late in a 32-20 game that was much closer than the final score would have one believe. The 49ers with a win here and a Seahawks loss (resulting from a huge upset by the St Louis Rams in Seattle) would give the 49ers the NFC West. However keep in mind it’s the Rams in Seattle this time which is an extreme long shot at best. If Seattle wins, the 49ers will be the number five seed with a win. If the 49ers lose and New Orleans wins, the red and gold are the sixth seed. Arizona can also qualify for the post season with a win over the 49ers and a loss by New Orleans to Tampa Bay.

What The Cardinals Bring to the Table- Offensively the Cardinals are about the middle of the pack in the NFL. The Cardinals rank 16th in total points scored while they are just 21st in rush yards and 23rd in total yards. However Arizona also has a passing game that’s rated 13th but can play like a top ten attack. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has plenty of reliable options to get the ball to, but none more reliable then veteran Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran of nine campaigns this season has caught 10 touchdown passes and has a total of 76 receptions this season for 841 yards. Michael Floyd has also emerged as one of Palmer’s “go-to guys” with 950 yards receiving and five touchdowns. The two Andre’s, Roberts and Ellington have combined for over 70 receptions for a composite 756 yards a pair of touchdowns. Out of the backfield Rashard Mendenhall, Stephan Taylor and Ellington have emerged as the main men to lead the Cardinals ground game. Mendenhall this season has rushed for eight touchdowns and 640 yards. On defense the Cardinals bring a level a toughness that matches the 49ers in defensive intensity. Karlos Dansby is the Cardinals leader on defense with 117 tackles this season plus 6 ½ QB sacks. Daryl Washington, Yeremiah Bell, Rashad Johnson, Calais Campbell have as a group have made over 250 tackles defense amongst the leagues best. The Cardinals are the NFL’s best team against the rush while limiting total yards and opponents on the scoreboard (as Seattle found out last weekend). Jay Feely handles the field goals and extra points for Arizona while Dave Zastudil take care of the punting duties.

What the 49ers Must Bring to Counter Arizona- The 49ers first must know that this is a vastly improved team over the group they played 11 long weeks ago. This is absolute "A-Game" territory, accept no subsitutes. The Cardinals defense gets off the ball a lot faster and the 49ers to have offensive success must effectively get good blocks up at the front line to fend off the Arizona blitz. If QB Colin Kaepernick is not afforded the time he needs to move the 49ers offense it could be a tough day for the red and gold on the whole. Since the Cardinals are tough on the run the 49ers will be hard pressed to get a fluid running game going which means they will need to use the airways more that they may want to. Kaepernick has plenty of options in the air from Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis to perhaps even Frank Gore or Kendal Hunter out of the backfield and must find a way to spread the Cardinals defense effectively. The 49ers are going to need to make wise decisions with the football throughout the game. Of particular concern for the 49ers is the condition of wide receiver Vernon Davis who missed much of the Falcons game. The 49ers have not said whether or not he’s injured to any degree. The 49ers defense meanwhile took a pretty good beating Monday night particularly late against the Falcons. If not for Bowman’s late interception the defense may have given up the most TD’s scored against it in one quarter. The 49ers defense this season has not had too many real hick-ups and will be looking to have a bounce back game ahead of the upcoming post season. Patrick Willis last week emerged as one of the defensive stars of the game in delivering several hard hits throughout Monday night. Ahmad Brooks continues to be constantly good in making key plays, Donte Whitner along with Eric Reid and Trummaine Brock have solidified the 49ers secondary while Justin Smith, Glenn Dorsey, Ray McDonald and Michael Wilhoite continue to be amongst the reasons the 49ers are one of the top five defenses in the NFL. The 49ers defense has enough fire power of it’s own to bounce back with a strong game against a middle of the pack Cardinals offense.

Kingshark Line- Truthfully this game could go either way and there is a good argument for why each team can win here. Arizona is very tough at home and a visiting team that does not bring their “A-Game” will be in for a long day. The Cardinals have plenty of motivation to win here and if the Saints were to fall to Tampa Bay, then Arizona’s since of urgency becomes that much greater. The 49ers in order to win this game must again make the best decisions possible with the football and be able to take care of it for 60 full minutes on both sides of the ball. If the 49ers don’t commit turnovers and make good decisions they can give the Cardinals quite a bit to figure out. The Cardinals offensively must find a way to navigate against one of the tougher defenses they’ll see this season. Arizona no doubt was watching the game Monday night and made good notes. The Arizona offense will do what they can to simulate what the Falcons were able to make work, and have some fairly equally effective weapons to do so. The 49ers defense just needs to get back on the field and do the things that got this team into the post season in the first place. The 49ers if they can get just enough points on offense will make the game more palatable for the defense to take over. This game could go either way and don’t be surprised if it does. The 49ers do just enough but will get a very tough test throughout. 49ers 20 Cardinals 17.

The Kingshark

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