Thursday Night Football features an NFC West showdown when the first-place San Francisco 49ers (7-0) travel to State Farm Stadium to take on the last-place Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1). The 49ers would love to extend their lead on a divisional opponent, especially with the Seattle Seahawks closely behind them at 6-2. The Cardinals are just trying to show that they can be relevant, although this year has proven to be largely a year of rebuilding.
While many predicted that they would be solid, I am not sure many expected that the San Francisco 49ers would be undefeated as they enter their eighth game of the season. Still, their defense has been spectacular, and their offense has done just enough to get by. They come into this one riding high, too. On Sunday, they demolished the Carolina Panthers to the tune of 51-13.
As nice as it was to exceed 50 points, the defense has just been on another level recently. In fact, in their last four games, the 49ers have given up a combined 23 points. I would say allowing less than six points a game on average over the last month is a sign that your defense is pretty top-notch.
The Arizona Cardinals have actually been playing respectably of late. Prior to Sunday’s 31-9 loss at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, they had won three straight games with wins over the Bengals (26-23), Falcons (34-33), and Giants (27-21). Still, Sunday was a bit of a reality check as they faced a unit that could beat them on both sides of the ball (especially with the return of Drew Brees). While the 49ers’ offense might not be as dynamic as that of the Saints, their defense is probably even better. Thus, the Cardinals will have their work cut out for them.
The San Francisco 49ers come into this as overwhelming 10-point favorites playing on the road. The over/under for points scored is set at 43.
By The Numbers
On the offensive side, the San Francisco 49ers come in third in the league, averaging 29.6 points per game (25.2 points on the road). It is worth noting that a large portion of their offense is a reflection of their stout defense, but they still have found ways to put points on the board regardless. The Cardinals are 20th, averaging 21.2 points per game (22.8 at home).
On the defensive side, it is all San Francisco. They currently rank second in the league, allowing just 11 points per game (10.2 on the road). The Cardinals come in 29th overall, allowing a disappointing 27.9 points per game (31.2 at home).
San Francisco Looks To Remain Perfect
The 49ers have been an unstoppable force this season and hope to continue doing so on Thursday. Realistically, though, it has been more about the defense than the offense. Their defensive leaders to this point consist of Fred Warner (39 tackles), Nick Bosa (seven sacks) and Richard Sherman (three interceptions).
On the offensive side, the 49ers are led under center by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. On the season, Garoppolo is 132 for 189 for 1,489 yards. To date, he has thrown just nine touchdowns while throwing seven interceptions. He also has been sacked 11 times.
Garoppolo’s favorite target thus far has been George Kittle, who has 40 receptions for 462 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how Garoppolo gets acclimated to new wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (who the 49ers just acquired in a trade). If they can get him rolling, too, it could help ignite the passing game.
On the ground, Matt Breida leads the way with 84 carries for 446 yards and a touchdown. He was forced to leave the game early against the Panthers, though, so the 49ers may rely heavier on their secondary options. Tevin Coleman has also gotten a big share of the carries, as he has rushed 71 times for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
Cardinals Trying To Give Niners First Loss
Despite having won three in a row recently, this is still definitely a rebuilding Arizona Cardinals team. Still, they are looking for positives throughout the season, especially from new quarterback Kyler Murray. The top draft choice has gone 186 for 292 for 1,988 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been sacked an overwhelming 26 times, something that does not bode well for him given the 49ers’ defense.
The top target for Murray is the ageless Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran keeps on producing, as he has 38 catches for 447 yards and two touchdowns. The next highest receiver is Christian Kirk, who has 32 catches for 321 yards.
On the ground is where it gets complicated for the Cardinals. David Johnson is injured, as is their backup Chase Edmonds. In a very shocking move, the Cardinals decided to trade away a sixth-round pick to acquire Kenyan Drake. While he gives them a fresh and talented body in the backfield, he also has just a couple days to learn the Cardinals’ system, something that again does not bode well given the 49ers’ defense.
49ers Stay Unbeaten
It can always be scary when you bet a short week matchup. Generally, there is more of a likeliness that players are still banged up from the previous weekend, since there hasn’t been as much preparation time for the game and play in general just becomes a little more sloppy. That last reason especially is all the more reason I am betting the 49ers in this one.
Offenses are generally more streaky or prone to fits of inconsistency than defenses, and when it comes to defense, the 49ers are one of the best. Throw on top of that the fact that the Cardinals’ offensive line has had its struggles and Drake is still learning the system, and I think it is a recipe for 49ers dominance. For my money, I am taking the 49ers despite laying the 10 points.