San Francisco 49ers Frustrate Arizona Cardinals
Written by Greg Smith – 2011-12 NFL Prediction Record (13-6)
Last Sunday the San Francisco 49ers clinched their first playoff berth since 2002, ending almost a decade of frustration for both their players, coaches and fans. The sight of Frank Gore celebrating the victory over the visiting St Louis Rams and their guarantee into the playoffs must have been a welcome picture for the long-awaiting crowds of Candlestick Park. The two central questions this weekend for NFL bettors in this Sunday’s matchup must be: Do the 49ers want to play hard enough to secure another win (and further improve their playoff position) that they risk injury to their players? Also, do the San Francisco 49ers have the skill available to defeat the Arizona Cardinals at home? After reviewing the pertinent highlights for both teams we should have a reasonable answer for both questions and the most profitable side for NFL bettors.
The bright side of the coin for the Arizona Cardinals at this point of the season is that they have been showing some improvement in their recent games and managed to pull off a victory last weekend over the visiting Dallas Cowboys (19-13). Their playoff hopes are still alive, although they need to win out the rest of their games and get some help from other teams. The dark side of the coin for the Cardinals is that their improvement may have been too little, too late and come against relatively weak opposition. Two wins against the St Louis Rams in their last five games are nothing to write home about and if anyone can figure out what the Dallas Cowboys were thinking last weekend I’d be interested to hear it. At any rate, Arizona has allowed only 5 touchdowns over their last 5 games and has moved up two spots in the power rankings (25th from 27th). In greater detail offensively, the Cardinals currently rank 23rd in total yards gained per game, 21st in passing yards, 19th in rushing yards and are 24th in total points scored. More specifically (and perhaps of greater concern for the Cardinals) is QB Kevin Kolb’s 57.5 % pass completion for the year to date, with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. As well, looking at QBR (which measures all aspects of the quarterback, Kevin Kolb has gone the entire year without a QBR of 55 or higher (with 50 being average and 100 being the maximum). Defensively, Arizona currently ranks 25th in total yards allowed per game, 19th in rushing yards allowed and 19th in total points allowed per game. As we’ll see, even with quite a healthy roster, Arizona stands well below San Francisco in most regards and will definitely have their hands full this weekend.
Looking at the San Francisco offensive stats overall there aren’t that many individual numbers that seem to add up to explain the team’s current record of 10-2 (4-1 as visitors). As well, the team has been lurking around the top ten in power rankings for much of the year and currently stands in the 3rd position (down from 2nd last week even after winning their last game). Looking at the specifics of their offence we notice that the 49ers rank 24th in total yards gained per game, 29th in passing yards, 7th in rushing yards and 10th in total points scored per game. QB Alex Smith stands at a 94.9 passer rating with 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and completes his passes at a 63.2 % average for the year. Definitely very good numbers, but in the case of the 49ers the sum of their parts is definitely greater than the individual numbers. What the 49ers are doing right now (and throughout the season) is playing excellent team football in all aspects of the game. QB Alex Smith and the offence aren’t blowing teams away and necessarily making the highlight reels but they are putting together solid wins against solid teams by managing the game. Indeed, defensively the 49ers are playing football that overall stands as some of the best in the league as they currently rank 4th in lowest total yards allowed per game, 16th in lowest passing yards allowed, 1st in lowest rushing yards allowed and 1st in lowest total points allowed per game. With the exception of wide receiver Braylon Edwards and linebacker Pat Willis the 49ers are as healthy as they’re going to get. So, since the 49ers outrank the Cardinals in almost every statistical aspect of the game we must figure that they have the skills to win this Sunday. The other question we set out to answer is, do they have the desire to win (in the sense of playing full-out and perhaps risking injury). The answer to this question lies in the fact that the 49ers have the opportunity this year to set a franchise record for fewest points allowed per game. This record was set back in 1976 as that team allowed 190 points in 14 games or 13.6 per game. The current version of the 49ers has allowed 161 points in 12 games played thus far, so must hold their remaining opponents to an average of slightly less than 14 points per game. If you understand football players and their respect for their team’s history and how powerfully a culture of defence can sweep opponents away this bit of trivia becomes vitally important. Indeed, team president Jed York commented after last weekend’s victory that he wants the team to keep on pushing and coach Harbaugh has mirrored this commitment throughout the week.
Therefore, I believe we have the answers to our two questions. The San Francisco 49ers have the skills (as demonstrated throughout the year) to win over the Arizona Cardinals this weekend and a commitment to building their playoff position and team attitude as far as possible.
Prediction: Take the San Francisco 49ers (-3) against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday (5Dimes.com)