Since this 49ers team doesn’t have much of a track record, every single game provides a unique challenge fans can either relish or fret over. As you’d expect for a team that’s 8-0-1 against the spread, the Niners have met every one, no matter what we thought those challenges were during the weeks leading up to each game (again, this is what people thought at the time, not what we know about these teams now):

  1. Seattle: the first game with Jim Harbaugh and a new coaching staff after a shortened training camp.
  2. Dallas: the first game against a team that wouldn’t be in the hunt for Andrew Luck.
  3. Cincinnati: first 1 pm EST road game.
  4. Philadelphia: first 1 pm EST road game against a feared team.
  5. Tampa Bay: a battle of 3-1 teams.
  6. Detroit: road game against the undefeated Lions and MEGATRON.
  7. Cleveland: up to that point, other teams coming off bye weeks had gone 3-9.
  8. Washington: east coast road game against an opponent the 49ers might look past.
  9. New York: a playoff preview against a team that just beat the Patriots at Foxboro.

Now the challenge is to win a game in which the 49ers are expected to dominate their opponent. The Cardinals’ record and defensive prowess invite low expectations, as do the lines surrounding this game (the 49ers are favored by 10-11.5 points).  The Cardinals may have won their last two games after almost beating the Ravens in Baltimore (who the 49ers face four days after playing Arizona in the much-anticipated Harbowl), and they have some well-known players, but the 49ers are five games ahead of the Cardinals and beat them twice last year by a combined score of 65-13.

Complacency and arrogance are the 49ers’ enemies this weekend. Good thing the offensive line’s going to come out angry.

Anthony Davis is always riled up about something, and he could be even angrier tomorrow afternoon after the car accident he mentioned today. In one tweet he wrote, “Guy ran a red light and hit me. I shoulda whooped his ass.”

The rest of what he wrote in that posting was about how he didn’t do anything because he felt sorry for the guy that hit him, because the other guy’s car’s hood popped up and its bumper fell off. Then Davis tweeted, “My car was still driveable so i left.”

I retweeted both of those, so I can verify that what I’m quoting was legitimately floating around the internets for a while, but I forgot to grab screenshots of either one. Both tweets, not surprisingly, were deleted minutes after they were posted. At least he didn’t delete his fantastic Twitter bio:

Im from NJ.. I went to Rutgers University..I’m a SF 49er.. I kick ass for a living..

The accident sounded minor, which is a relief for the 49ers since a healthy Davis is a guy who’s proven he can stop Arizona’s biggest talker of trash, Darnell Dockett. Even during an uneven rookie year, Davis completely shut Dockett down in their first meeting. Dockett did collect a sack in the last game of the 2010 season, a 38-7 49ers win (I don’t remember the sack or have access to game film, so I don’t know who was blocking Dockett at the time). However, Davis has improved quite a lot from last season, even though he has to be reeled in at times by center Jonathan Baldwin Goodwin:

“Goody is kind of like my Uncle,” second-year offensive tackle Anthony Davis said. “If I’m not in the huddle talking to somebody, he’ll be like, ‘Get over here!’”
Goodwin probably admonishes Davis more than anybody else because the 323-pounder loves to challenge his opponent physically and verbally. “It’s just something I’ve always done, high school, college,” Davis said. This season, it’s working for him. As offensive coordinator Greg Roman said, Davis has improved immensely over the course of the season.
His better play and flapping gums have also made him a huddle hit with teammates. “He’s great to have in the huddle; he gets competitive with the opposing defensive linemen,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “He’s got great energy and everyone feeds off it.”

Did I mention that I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Anthony Davis every week?

Both Anthony Davis and Dockett like to talk trash with opponents on Twitter (Davis with the Lions’ Cliff Avril and Dockett a year ago with Vernon Davis). But the entire line (and the rest of the players, and the coaching staff…) can’t be happy with these comments from Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton about the 49ers’ shifting at the line.

“It’s a cute play,” Horton said via the Arizona Republic, “and the league has said it’s a cute play also, a legal cute play. So kudos to them for having cute plays in.”

Horton told the paper that the Cardinals are coached to watch the snap of the ball.

“So if they do what we say, it’s not a big deal,” Horton said. “I understand it’s third and 1, fourth and 1, crunch game and all of a sudden a big man moves . . . cute.”

When Horton’s comments were relayed to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, he had responded: “I don’t have a reaction to that. . . He’s watching the film, at least.”

Since there’s no chance for Harbaugh to shake Horton’s hand after the game, the o-line’s going to take it upon themselves to show the team’s displeasure with Horton’s insults. Look for Anthony Davis* to talk even more trash than usual, the 49ers to shift more than ever before, and for the offense to find the Cardinals’ main weakness on defense and exploit it continuously.

*One of the funny things about writing about the Niners is how often you have to write out players’ full names, since there are so many guys named Davis, Smith and Williams.

If Gore’s healthy, watch him come close to clinching the all-time franchise record for rushing yards (he needs 149 yards to pass Joe Perry). If his knee is still bothering him, Kendall Hunter could have the game of his career … but Gore has a lot of incentives in the contract he signed before the season, so expect him to play.

Or, the 49ers could come out throwing like they did against the Giants. It doesn’t really matter; the Cardinals’ defense, despite what the 49ers coaches say about their scheme or talent, has not been good all season. For the 49ers’ constantly improving offensive line, controlling the game and routing a division rival is a challenge they should meet. The 49ers’ defense? They’re always ready.

Prediction: 49ers 34, Cardinals 10