If you are a fan of run heavy, defensive, grind it out ugly football, then you will want to watch the Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The 49ers (3-2) are -11 point favorites against the Cardinals (3-2) in a game that suddenly has bigger implications than one would have expected a month ago. With the NFC East in shambles, and the Atlanta Falcons suffering a shocking plummet, the door is now wide open for the wild card slots in the NFC. The winner of this game will be in the early driver’s seat for the Wild Card, and while we expect the 49ers to win at home, we think that Arizona has a great chance of covering the rather large spread. Here are a few reasons why.
The Arizona Cardinals are not the best road team in the league, at least when it comes to wins and losses. The Cards are 4-26 in their last 30 road games when they are the underdog. However, they have a vastly better record in that span against the spread, going 16-13-1. While it’s not the best thing to hang your hat on as a Cardinals fans, it is a significant stat to consider when betting this game. In addition, the Cardinals are already 2-1 on the season against the spread on the road, and we think they will improve to 3-1 after this week.
Kaepernick struggling despite team’s high scores.
Despite the 49ers putting 35 and 34 points on the board respectfully in the last two games, there are still some huge question marks on the offensive side of the ball, specifically with QB Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick started the season by thrasihing the Packers, but he followed that game up with two downright awful outputs against Seattle and Indianapolis. Though the 49ers have had two easy wins since then, Kaepernick has still struggled mightily. On the season, Kaepernick has completed just 56% of his passes, and is boasting a less than impressive 6-4 touchdown to interception ratio. Despite the Niners destroying Houston 34-3 last week, Kaepernick had a rather abysmal line of 6-15, 113 yards, and one touchdown, with over half of those yards coming on one play, a 64 yard TD to Vernon Davis.
We harp on the struggles of the passing attack because the Cardinals rushing defenses is one of the best in the league, ranking 3rd allowing just 79 yards a game. In other words, the Cardinals are great at shutting down the current strength of the 49ers, that being Frank Gore and the running game. The lone outside weapon for the Niners, Anquan Boldin, will be shadowed by elite corner Patrick Peterson all day, meaning that Kaep will likely have another subpar game for San Francisco. It should also be pointed out that Arizona’s star inside linebacker Daryl Washington had a phenomenal game in his season debut last week. Washington was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, but thrived in his return against Carolina last week, logging eight tackles and a key interception when the Panthers were in the red zone.
Carson Palmer needs to protect the ball.
I wish I was as confident in the Arizona offense as I was in the defense. The Cardinals haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard so far this year, averaging just 18 points a game, with a maximum output of 25 points in Week 2 against the Lions. The biggest cause for concern in regards to the spread is Carson Palmer propensity to turn the ball over. Interceptions have plagued Palmer throughout his career, and this season has been no different, logging a 5-9 touchdown to interception ratio. If Palmer tosses a pick six, then I don’t like his team’s chances of covering the spread, but if he is able to take care of the ball, and complete the rare drives that get down to the redzone, then I give the Cards a chance to win the game, in addition to covering the spread.
As I mentioned before, I think this will be an ugly game, and the 41 over/under point total shows that Las Vegas agrees with me. Even with the number rather low for NFL standards, I still like the under in this spot. I’m looking at a final score in the area of 23-13 49ers, meaning the under points will win, and the Cardinals will cover the spread, if only ever so slightly.