49ers vs. Cardinals: 5 Things to Watch For

San Francisco 49ers (3-7) vs. Arizona Cardinals (3-7)

University of Phoenix Stadium

Kickoff: 5:30 PM (PST)

Playoff hopes:

Only in the NFC West can the 49ers and Cardinals, who both have 3-7 records, still be considered in the NFC West division race.  The 49ers need to win the rest of their remaining six games to finish 9-7 to even think about the playoffs.  Or as Frank Gore put it, this is “March Madness, man.”  True the 49ers and Cardinals have to win out the rest of their games so tonight’s winner could eliminate the losers chances of winning the division.  Which means the end of the playoff discussion for the loser which have been ridiculous for a team like the 49ers who got shutout at home last week and for the Cardinals who are on a five game losing streak.  Neither team deserves to make the playoffs.

If the 49ers win the rest of the remaining games they win all tiebreakers with a 9-7 record.  But after getting shutout at home against the Buccaneers I am not crossing my fingers for six straight wins.  The 49ers will be able to pull out the win tonight but winning five straight after tonight’s game will not happen.

49ers offense:

Will the 49ers come out swinging with passes or came out snoring with runs in front of a national TV audience?  The 49ers gained a season-low 189 yards and 11 first downs, two of which came on penalties, when they got shutout at home for the first time since 1977.  Troy Smith will make his first Monday Night Football start and will be under center for the fourth straight game in replace of Alex Smith.  Troy Smith had his worst game last week getting sacked six times and completed 16 of 31 passes for 148 yards with an interception.  If the 49ers want to win tonight Mike Singletary needs to allow offensive coordinator Mike Johnson to run wild with the playbook and get creative on offense.

The 49ers should have no problem running the football which was non-existent against the Buccaneers.  Gore will be facing a Cardinals run defense ranked 28th in the league.  Gore has always been a stud on Monday Night Football with some of his best games of his career.  Gore has had even better success when facing the Cardinals averaging 101 rushing yards with six touchdowns the last five times the teams have met.

Cardinals five game losing streak:

With a five game losing streak confidence might be low for the Cardinals entering tonight’s game but the 49ers should not think they will be able to come in and easily pull off a win.  With the game on Monday Night Football the Cardinals are going to showcase their team for the rest of the nation and don’t want to embarrass themselves with a six straight loss.  Despite both teams record the rivalry between the 49ers and Cardinals is always huge especially since this will be the third straight season the two teams have met on Monday Night Football.

Nate Clements vs. Larry Fitzgerald:

The matchup between 49ers cornerback Nate Clements and Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald could be what decides the game tonight.  I think it will be close all game and a big play by Clements or Fitzgerald in the final quarter will seal it for the winning team.  Clements has been playing better the last few weeks but can have a bad game any given week despite how well he has played.  Clements has had ankle injuries which contributed to some of his poor play this season but with renewed confidence the last few games could give Clements the edge.  Fitzgerald’s numbers are down this season but that has to do more with not having Kurt Warner at quarterback than Fitzgerald slowing down as a wide receiver.  Even with Warner and Fitzgerald playing in the two matchups last season Clements did a great job of limiting the wide receiver.  Safety Dashon Goldson is questionable and could he miss the game so Fitzgerald will have the advantage in the game.

Joe Nedney doubtful:

My prediction for the game is the 49ers will win 20-16.  However if 49ers kicker Joe Nedney misses the game, he is listed as doubtful, the 49ers may lose the game on a missed field goal.  The 49ers signed kicker Shane Andrus last week to replace Nedney but he did not have any field goal attempts in the 21-0 loss to the Buccaneers.  This is a cause for concern because if Singletary does not have faith in his unproven kicker to win the game with a field goal everything will rest on Troy Smith’s shoulders.

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