The Arizona Cardinals play their biggest game of the season on Sunday when they face their NFL West rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Both teams are 3-2 and trail the division-leading Seattle Seahawks by one game. Let's take a look at Sunday's matchup:
San Francisco (3-2)
The 49ers are coming off a very impressive victory over the Houston Texans last week. They have one of the best defenses in the league and are led by Pro Bowl linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. As brilliant as they are in helping stop the run, the Niners defense is even better against the pass, allowing just 189 yards per contest through the air.
Arizona's Carson Palmer will have his work cut out for him.
Offensively, veteran running back Frank Gore is still the bell cow for the Niners. He has rushed for over 80 yards in each of his last three games but will be facing a Cardinals rushing defense that is one of just three defenses in the NFL that has not allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back. In fact, the Red Birds rank third in the league in rushing defense, allowing just 79 yards a contest.
That's where QB Colin Kaepernick comes in. The University of Nevada product is having a down season but is still very dangerous with his arm and legs. Former Cardinals wide Anquan Boldin is enjoying a fine season for the 49ers and tight end Vernon Davis can really hurt the Cardinals down the seams and in the red zone. He has the speed of a wide receiver and should be a big factor on Sunday.
This will be a fascinating matchup between two of the most aggressive, hard-hitting defenses in the NFL. The Red Birds recorded seven sacks last Sunday and welcomed the return of linebacker Daryl Washington, who had two sacks and an interception last week. Karlos Dansby has enjoyed an excellent season and cornerback Patrick Peterson is once again one of the best in the business and should be matched up with Boldin. That will be fun to watch.
Arizona must protect Palmer as much as possible against San Francisco's pass rush. Palmer has had a shaky season so far but will look to connect with Larry Fitzgerald (three TD catches) and Michael Floyd, who paces the Red Birds with 301 receiving yards.
Although Rashard Mendenhall is still the starter, expect to see more of rookie Andre Ellington in the backfield. Ellington has been very impressive this season and has break away speed in open space. His carries have increased each week and he is also a dangerous pass catcher as well. He looks like a future star.
Prediction: This is a tough one. Both teams have very good defenses. Both teams have star receivers. The difference in the game could be Vernon Davis and the Cardinals have had issues covering tight ends this season. A great game. 49ers 17, Cardinals 16.
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