Defensive slugfests are becoming the norm when NFC West foes clash on the gridiron, and Monday night's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals should only further that notion.
While it's tough to make the claim that any one loss in late October has the potential to make or break a team's season, this game in particular could do just that for the Red and Gold.
The Niners have looked absolutely dominant for much of the 2012 season, and a win over the Cardinals would once again solidify them as the division's team to beat.
A loss, however, would not only muck up the race for the NFC West crown, it would seriously legitimize concerns that the 49ers are no longer the model of consistency they were throughout 2011.
Let's look at five reasons the Niners' matchup with the Cardinals on Monday Night Football could either make or break the rest of their season.
The outcome of Monday night's matchup has the potential to cause a huge shakeup in the NFC West Standings
Let's see how the NFC West would shake out after considering all possible Week 8 outcomes.
If the 49ers win
They'll be flying high at 6-2 and guaranteed a two-game lead over both the Cardinals and Rams. A loss in Detroit on Sunday would drop the Seahawks to 4-4 and two games behind the Niners as well, but a win would keep them just a game back.
If the Cards win
Arizona would get even with San Fran at 5-3, and a Seattle win in Detroit would create another three-way tie at the top. If the Rams can pull off an upset at home against the Patriots, they would move to 4-4 and just a game out of first.
Seattle struggles on the road, and the 2-4 Lions—playing their first home game since Week 4—are desperate for a win. St. Louis heads to London to take on New England at Wembley Stadium, and the Rams are 1-10 in games away from the Edward Jones Dome since the start of last year.
With a little help, the 49ers could have a serious stranglehold on the top spot in the NFC West come Tuesday morning.
The Arizona Cardinals have lost three straight games after a 4-0 start.
The Cardinals—particularly their offensive line—have found a way to squander a 4-0 start with three straight losses. Arizona's O-line has allowed a whopping 29 sacks in the past four weeks.
The 49ers must invade University of Phoenix Stadium and kick them while they're down.
Regardless of Monday night's outcome, Arizona will travel to Green Bay next week to take on Aaron Rodgers and the red-hot Packers at Lambeau Field. After a Week 10 bye, the Cards head out again, this time to visit Matt Ryan and the currently undefeated Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
If Arizona loses Monday, losses to the Packers and Falcons would be the Cardinals fifth and sixth straight defeats, effectively deflating their playoff hopes in a huge way. Considering that Green Bay is 17-2 at home dating back to 2010 and Atlanta is 16-3 at home in that span, the odds are not in 'Zona's favor.
If Arizona beats the 49ers, it could spark a turnaround for a team in desperate need of a win and keep them in the NFC West hunt far longer than San Fran would like them to be.
When the Cardinals used a fourth-quarter comeback to drop the Niners in Week 14 last season, it ended a string of five losses to the Red and Gold. Jim Harbaugh remains undefeated against the Seahawks and Rams since he took over as head coach, but that one loss serves as his only divisional blemish.
Not only would a win help further Arizona's downward spiral, it would allow the 49ers to regain control of what is arguably their biggest division rivalry.
The second half of the 49ers 2012 schedule might not be any tougher than the first half, but it's certainly not any easier.
If San Francisco does lose to Arizona, they would have to finish 5-3 over their final eight games to reach 10 wins. With trips to New Orleans, New England and Seattle in addition to home games against Chicago and Arizona, comes the potential to make a season with double-digit wins rather difficult.
That doesn't include two games against the Rams and another against Miami. Neither team looks like the pushover they were in 2011.
The 49ers should be confident in their ability to win five of their final eight games, but a potential 5-3 start tainted by a disappointing loss in Minnesota, a blowout defeat to the Giants at home and a divisional loss to the Cardinals would raise some serious concerns of whether this team is actually as resilient as many believe them to be.
A Week 9 bye will serve as a nice breather no matter what happens Monday night, but the 49ers cannot afford to head into Week 10 having lost two of their last three games. The NFC is as competitive as ever and earning home field advantage for anything more than a wild card game will be no simple task.
It doesn't have to be pretty, but coming away victorious in the desert Monday night would serve as a major step for the 49ers in their quest for Super Bowl No. 6.
Add Brandon on Twitter: @B_Burnett49er