There's a lot more than divisional pride on the line for the San Francisco 49ers (11-4) and Arizona Cardinals (10-5) in Week 17.
San Francisco could potentially win the NFC West with a victory over the Cardinals on Dec. 29, provided Seattle loses to St. Louis at home. On the other side, Arizona could potentially get into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed with a win over the 49ers.
The 49ers come into the contest on a five-game winning streak, having just won in thrilling fashion on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16.
It hasn't been sunshine and roses for the 49ers this season, however, which makes the turnaround all the sweeter to All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, as noted by Janie McCauley of the Associated Press via MercuryNews.com:
Everybody expected us to just coast right through the season and be easy. But as you know we went through a little bit of adversity, and people were like, 'Well, maybe they're not the team that we thought they were.' But we just stayed together and we have another chance now to go make something happen.
This team is getting healthy and hot at just the right time for another Super Bowl run.
Arizona is no less hot, however, having gone 7-1 in its last eight games. The team's recent win over the Seahawks in Seattle marked the first road win by any team at CenturyLink Field since Dec. of 2011.
One of these scorching teams will inevitably cool off on Dec. 29. Here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with betting information and injury reports for both teams.
When: Sunday, Dec. 29, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via SportsBook.com)
- Over/Under: Off
- Spread: Pick 'Em
|Name||Position||Injury||Practice Status||Game Status|
|Dan Skuta||LB||--||Did Not Participate In Practice||--|
|Mike Iupati||G||--||Limited Participation in Practice||--|
|Kassim Osgood||WR||--||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Jonathan Goodwin||C||--||Did Not Participate In Practice||--|
|Justin Smith||DT||--||Did Not Participate In Practice||--|
|Navorro Bowman||LB||--||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Vance McDonald||TE||--||Limited Participation in Practice||--|
|Frank Gore||RB||--||Limited Participation in Practice||--|
|Tarell Brown||CB||--||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Michael Crabtree||WR||--||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Mario Manningham||WR||--||Did Not Participate In Practice||--|
|Palmer, Carson||QB||Ankle/Right Elbow||LP||FP||-||-|
Can Arizona Shut Down Frank Gore?
San Francisco's offensive attack (when successful) is predicated on Frank Gore and the power-running game. The 49ers haven't lost a single game this season when Gore carries the ball at least 20 times, which is a number he's hit the past two games.
Arizona's defense is the best in the league against the run, however, allowing just 84.5 yards per game. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was asked to rate his current defense against the ones in Pittsburgh from 2004-11, as relayed by Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com: "I would put us above all those defenses, because the number of takeaways. We can stop the run. Those teams were really good, but they didn’t create the number of turnovers that this team is creating and closing out ballgames. They’re fantastic."
Gore shredded this unit for 101 yards on 25 carries during the first matchup between the two teams, though, and his strong play was a big reason the 49ers won 32-20.
The veteran 49ers running back has come on strong the past three games, totaling 293 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Another big game by "The Tank" would likely spell doom for the Cardinals at home. When Gore starts churning up the yardage on the ground, it's not usually long until Colin Kaepernick strikes with a big play downfield on a play-action pass.
Arizona isn't ready to take the leap into the postseason in Arians' rookie season at the helm.
Carson Palmer has been a turnover machine this year. He threw four interceptions against Seattle in Week 16 and threw two the first time these teams met in October, totaling 21 on the season, which is tied with rookie Geno Smith for the second most in the NFL.
The return of Michael Crabtree to San Francisco's offense has had a soothing effect on third-year quarterback Kaepernick, who has scored nine touchdowns (eight passing and one rushing) during the team's five-game winning streak.
Crabtree earned his first 100-yard receiving day this season in Week 16, and he'll likely relish going up against Patrick Peterson, who Bleacher Report 49ers lead writer Dylan DeSimone is reluctant to label "elite":
Michael Crabtree scored four touchdowns on Patrick Peterson last year. So, if I'm hesitant to label him a "shutdown corner," that's why.— Dylan DeSimone (@DeSimone80) December 26, 2013
Which team will win?
Another player who has feasted on Arizona's defense is tight end Vernon Davis, who caught eight passes for 180 yards and two scores in Week 6.
As good as the Cardinals have played during the second half of the season, the 49ers have big-time matchup advantages over Arizona at key positions. This one will be close, but the road team will prevail.
49ers win, 24-21.
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