Depending on where you look, the 49ers are laying 3.5/4 points this Sunday in Arizona. After the Niners beat Arizona 23-7 a few weeks ago in San Francisco in a game they should have won by at least 28, it seems kind of strange.
Sure, the Cardinals are hosting the NFC West champs this time, but they’re in the middle of a lost season while the 49ers are still trying to position themselves as the No. 2 seed in the conference.
So what gives?
- The Cardinals have won two games in a row, 23-20 at St. Louis and a wild (yet kind of predictable) overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys at home. And when a team beats the Cowboys in a game that garners extra scrutiny due to Jason Garrett icing his own kicker (hahaha), the nation pays attention.
- It goes even further. After losing a game in Baltimore where they had a 21-point second half lead in Week 8, the Cardinals have won four of their last five — losing only to the 49ers — and their defense only surrendered 17.2 ppg over that span.
- In Week 11 49ers got to face John Skelton, whose career numbers against San Francisco (2 games: 20-for-44, 191 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT) are less than splendid. Kevin Kolb was solid last week against Dallas (16-for-25, 247 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT — although he was sacked 5 times) and performed well against the 49ers last year in leading the Eagles to a 27-24 win at Candlestick (21-for-31, 253 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT).
- Patrick Willis isn’t going to play … although that didn’t seem to limit the 49ers’ defense last week.
- Since the 49ers are already playoff-bound and have what amounts to a 2-game lead over the Saints in the seeding race (since the first tiebreaker is conference record and the 49ers are 8-1 against the NFC while New Orleans is 6-3), perhaps the oddsmakers think this is a game where the 49ers will either come out with less-than-stellar intensity and/or rest their starters in the fourth quarter.
Whenever a point spread appears odd at first glance, it’s either time to pounce or stay away. But the 49ers 10-1-1 against the spread this season. They’re 4-1 on the road. They beat the Cardinals on the road in 2010 and 2009 with a much weaker team (although the Cardinals were a totally different squad in those years, too).
The 49ers have been using some of these games against inferior opponents as virtual practice sessions, and this week expect to see the Niners continue to take more shots downfield, especially against rookie CB Patrick Peterson. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Anthony Dixon getting a few more carries than usual, as Frank Gore has slowed down over the past few weeks and the Niners can’t afford an injury to Gore that lingers into January.
The defense will be fine, as usual. With Kolb dealing with a foot injury that’s still healing, he should be a relatively stationary target — which presents a perfect opportunity for Aldon Smith to boost his Defensive Rookie of the Year credentials.
It’s not a difficult decision to pick the 49ers in this game — picking the Niners every week is one of the reasons why I’ve been able to stay over .500 in my NFL picks this season. As long as San Francisco doesn’t allow the Cardinals to block any field goal attempts and keeps emerging wideout Andre Roberts from going off, the 49ers should be 11-1-1 against the spread after Sunday. And more importantly, 11-2 on the season going into what should be a much more difficult test on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Cardinals 17