By the time this Monday Night Football game kicks off, it will have been 11 days since the San Francisco 49ers (5-2) last played last Thursday night, which is a good thing considering how physical that 13-6 victory over Seattle was. The Arizona Cardinals meanwhile have lost three straight games since an improbable 4-0 start.
Still, Arizona can draw inspiration from knowing that the winner of this contest will be in first place in the NFC West, although it is San Francisco that is -6½ on the road with a low posted total of 37½.
1. Why San Francisco will cover the spread: San Francisco will cover this spread if it can run the ball effectively and keep Alex Smith out of third-and-long situations. That is usually what the 49ers do best, but they were unable to do so in a blowout loss to the Giants two weeks ago. They did turn things around nicely vs. a great Seattle defense of all teams however, rushing for 175 yards with Frank Gore gaining 131 of them on just 16 carries! One player that did not bounce back was Smith, who had his second straight sup-par game. Arizona puts good pressure on the quarterback and ranks a strong fourth against the pass, but it is just 20th against the run while allowing 4.2 yards per carry, so look for the Niners to achieve their goal and loosen the Cardinals’ pass defense up a bit.
2. Why Arizona will cover the spread: Stop us if you heard this before, but Arizona will cover this spread if it can run the ball effectively and keep John Skelton out of third-and-long situations. This would have seemed unthinkable a couple of weeks ago, but the 49ers have actually had two running backs rush for over 100 yards against them in the last two games (Ahmad Bradshaw, Marshawn Lynch) after yielding just one 100-yard rusher in the previous 43 games, and the Cardinals actually got 104 rushing yards from LaRod Stephens-Howling vs. what had been a good Minnesota defense last week, which allowed Skelton to complete 25-of 36 passes for 262 yards, albeit in a 21-14 loss.
3. Total Talk: Those two fine offensive performances by Arizona were correlated and the Cardinals will try to employ the same strategy here, except we do not expect it to work. We are not sure what happened to the Minnesota defense last week, but Stephens-Howling is not nearly as good as Lynch or Bradshaw, so we expect the San Francisco run defense to return to form this week and stuff the Arizona run, which in turn will worsen Skelton’s passing numbers because of those dreaded third-and-longs. Thus, the Cardinals will struggle to score points here and the 49ers will be able to control the clock vs. the shaky Arizona run defense, making the ‘under’ probably the best play in this game, as while we also like the Niners, it is never easy giving this many points in a projected low scoring game.
4. Betting Trends for 49ers/Cards: San Francisco is 6-1 ATS in the last seven head-to-head meetings, and the ‘under’ is 12-5 in the last 17 Arizona divisional games.
San Francisco 23 – Arizona 10