There is a house in New Orleans . . . they call the rising suh . . . uh, wait. Wrong city. It’s off to Phoenix, and the phrase, “it’s a dry heat, though.” So is a convection oven. As the 49ers try and make their way to a 1st round playoff bye, they travel to Arizona for a game against the used-to-be Chicago, used-to-be St Louis, and used-to-be Phoenix Cardinals. The names and cities may change, but the constants around those parts is the God-awful ownership that is the Bidwills. People around these parts give the Yorks a ton of crap for ineptitude, but for absolute mediocrity for stunningly long stretches of time, look no further than the Cardinals and their tight-fisted owners, the Bidwill family. Owners of the team since 1932, they have one lone championship in 1947. Since then, they’ve been in the playoffs 5 times. That’s 5 playoff appearances in 74 YEARS. Seeing as they are missing the playoffs again, let’s call it an even 75 years.
While this looks like a sure thing on paper, AZ has been on a pretty good run here in recent weeks. They’ve gone 4 of 5 (of course the loss was against SF on 11/20) by beating the Rams 2x, the Iggles, and the Cowboys. OK, not great competition, but AZ has been in just about every game, and have lost a lot of close ones. Much like the 2009 Niners. AZ has lost by 1 to Washington, by 3 to Seattle, by 4 to the Giants, and by 4 to the Ravens. Funny thing is, their recent success has come mostly at the hand of John Skelton. Their supposed savior, the oft-discussed-around-these-parts Kevin Kolb has gone 2-6 as the starting QB. He did engineer their win over Dallas last week, but while KK was battling turf-toe, John Skelton engineered wins over the Rams (2x) and Iggles, while losing to the Niners, for a 3-1 record.
Neither their offense or defense is putting up stellar numbers (23rd in yards, 24th in points on O, 25 in yards, 19th in points allowed on D), but they do have Beanie Wells at 916 yards rushing, and Larry Fitzgerald at 943 yard receiving. And Patrick Peterson (a guy I was very high on in the 2011 draft) is kicking ass as a punt returner (an astounding 4 TDs so far), and is playing a sold corner. He has 2 picks and 11 passes batted down along with 48 tackles.
So, this is a game that could very well get away from the Niners. Az is a tough place to play, and these guys are strong on special teams, and with Fitzgerald, can strike quickly. The key, as usual, is pressure. Kolb is about as mobile as a mobile home, so get to him, and the rest should be fairly easy. Beanie Wells is good, but he’s not going to break anything very long. He has been fumble-prone as well. So the formula remains the same. Get on top of them early, run the ball down their throats, and get TDs rather than FGs. This is important, because any kind of punt battle could very well be won by their return game. Kick it in the end zone, kick it out of bounds. Or better yet, don’t punt. The last game went that way as the Andy Man only punted 3 times, and Peterson had 2 returns for 22 yards.
If I was to make a guess, I’d say 27-20 Niners.