49ers Predictable Only in Their Unpredictability, and Why That's Bad News
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Chances are, if you're reading this, that you root for the San Francisco Giants, a phenomenally weird baseball club that just happens to be, depending on when you read this, two, one or no games away from its second championship in the past three seasons.
After all, what would your reaction be if you went back in a time machine and told your November 2010 self the following?
2012 you: "Hey, how sweet is this? After 56 years the Giants finally won a World Series? Well, guess what, they're going to do it again in 2012."
2010 you: "That's not that surprising; they have a pretty good core of hitters with Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Andres Torres..."
2012 you: "Yeah, none of those guys will be involved at all. In fact, only a couple will even be Giants, but Sanchez will be injured the whole season and won't play at all, and Huff will pretty much be the 25th man on the roster."
2010 you: "That's crazy. So I guess pitching really takes up the slack then, huh? I can see that. Let me guess, Lincecum regains his Cy Young form and Jonathan Sanchez finally masters his control to be that dominant lefty starter and Brian Wilson just mows down everybody in the ninth, right?
2012 you: "Um, not so much. Wilson is injured the whole year and Sergio Romo is actually the closer. Lincecum is a disaster as a starter for most of the season and is now a useful bullpen guy. The pitching really wasn't good for most of the year, to be honest. Our two most reliable starters in the playoffs are Barry Zito and the guy we traded to the Pirates in 2001 for Jason Schmidt."
2010 you: "Armando Rios has turned into a great pitcher now?"
2012 you: "No, the other guy, Ryan Vogelsong."
2010 you: "Well what about Jonathan Sanchez?"
2012 you: "Oh, he's terrible now. The team traded him last offseason for a left fielder who was an All-Star for us for four months before he got suspended for steroid use."
2010 you: "An All-Star Giants left fielder on steroids? You say you're from the future?"
2012 you: "I know, right?
2010 you: "So... how does the team win then?"
2012 you: "They score a lot of runs, especially on the road."
2010 you: "So Brian Sabean finally signed some sluggers?"
2012 you: "They finish dead last in the league in homers."
2010 you: "I don't understand sports at all. Next you're gonna tell me the 49ers will be really good in two years."
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2012 you: "Well, they are. Jim Harbaugh is their coach now and everything."
2010 you: "Harbaugh, huh? Cool. I suppose we got Andrew Luck, too? Anybody's an improvement over that bust Alex Smith, I guess."
2012 you: "Huh. About that..."
2010 you: "Leave my house."
With that fun exercise I stretched on way too long now mercifully behind us, I submit that the Niners have their own fair share of weirdness, not even counting the Alex Smith saga.
This is a team that has dominated games against two of the most hyped teams in the league in the Packers and the Jets, blown out a couple of overrated dregs in Buffalo and Detroit and won ugly last Thursday at Seattle in their first division game.
Still, while there were bulletin-board storylines readily available for the Green Bay (nobody thinks you'll win/Rodgers vs. Smith), Detroit (handshake-gate) and Seattle games (Pete Carroll vs. Harbaugh), they paled in comparison to two others on the first-half slate.
I mean, going into the season if there were two games I was positive the Niners would be up for, they were at Minnesota against old coach Mike Singletary (an assistant to Leslie Frasier), and against the New York Giants team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.
Some idiot even wrote that the Giants wouldn't even try hard for the regular-season rematch, the odds were so stacked against them.
Naturally, the Niners played listless, uninspired football in both of these games, turned it over a bunch and lost handily. Smith in particular was bad, playing about two good quarters and six lousy ones over the two games.
He wasn't all that good against Seattle this past game either, if you recall.
This brings us to Monday night's game at Arizona.
On paper, it sure looks like a mismatch. The Cardinals offensive line is beyond bad. It's historically terrible, on pace to allow more sacks than any team since the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles, where a young Randall Cunningham suffered 72 of the team's astonishing 104 sacks allowed and lived to tell about it.
Arizona's terrible line already got Kevin Kolb seriously hurt, and in his place is John Skelton, who has mostly been atrocious the past six quarters in Kolb's stead.
However, it was Skelton who handed the 49ers their last regular-season loss in 2011, with the Cardinals coming back from a 19-7 third-quarter deficit to win 21-19 at Mail Order Meaningless Diploma Stadium.
The game just happened to be the worst of Smith's 2011 season, and the offense didn't produce a single first down in any of their final six drives that afternoon.
Yes, as bizarre a statement as it would've seemed for most of your sports fan existence, the Cardinals really are a defense-first team (just like the Seahawks were before them, in fact).
The secondary, in particular, with safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes and corners Patrick Peterson and William Gay, is really good, even though the pass rush in front of them is sporadic.
Daryl Washington is probably the best linebacker in the league at the moment, and he's flanked by a couple of young, improving pass-rushers in Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield.
Meanwhile, on the defensive line, Darnell Dockett is the mouth that roars, and Calais Campbell is the guy who actually does stuff. He always seems to be up for the 49ers, and he's got a bone to pick with Mike Lupati. The dude's got a real hard-on for wanting to beat them, you might say.
Offensively, the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and rookie Michael Floyd in their receiving corps, but the latter hasn't done much.
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(A first-round pick receiver who can't contribute regularly this late into the season? How embarrassing. I mean, can you imagine?)
They're down to their third and fourth runners on the depth chart due to injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, but LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell haven't played like the downgrades they were supposed to be as of yet.
Offensive tackles D'Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie have been so poor, allowing a combined 21.50 sacks between them according to STATS LLC, that hardly anyone has noticed that free-agent signee Adam Snyder has pretty much been a disaster at right guard.
One would think the 49ers would be motivated to avenge their loss here from last season, but we've already been burned twice with that theory.
I'm still going to pick them though, because I'm a stupid human being incapable of learning things.
If there's a Game 5, you'll be watching the Giants anyway (or at least you should be) so what does it matter? I mean, with Ryan Vogelsong, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco leading the way, how can this not be a baseball town?
How will the 49ers fare on Monday?
Week 8 Picks (0-1 so far)
Philadelphia 24 (-3), Atlanta 20
Seattle 20 (+1), Detroit 17
Green Bay 34 (-15), Jacksonville 17
New England 24, St. Louis 20 (+7)
Washington 26 (+4), Pittsburgh 24
New York Giants 27 (-1), Dallas 20
San Francisco 23 (-7), Arizona 13
2012 Record: 66-39 (9-4 last week)
Vs. Spread: 48-52-5 (5-6-2 last week)
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