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FIRST STRING: San Francisco Eyeing Top Seed in Win at Arizona
Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards against Arizona on October 13 (sfgate.com).

FIRST STRING: San Francisco Eyeing Top Seed in Win at Arizona

 49ers too Much for Hopeful, Helpless Cardinals


The NFC West served up laughs to every critic around the NFL in 2010. Not one team finished the season over .500. The division winner, Seattle Seahawks (7-9), acquired a few believers with a win over the 5th seed New Orleans Saints on Wild Card weekend. The Chicago Bears eliminated the Seahawks the next week sustaining the grim forecast for the entire division. My how the game has changed.

The NFC West is now the best division in The League with three teams securing double-digit wins. If the St. Louis Rams defeat Seattle on the road Sunday, the NFC West will be the only division to finish the season with each team at .500 or better. The odds makers consider it unlikely. Nevertheless, there is much at stake heading into Sunday’s games.

With a win, Seattle will secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a loss, Seattle could lose home field and maybe a first round bye if both San Francisco and the Carolina Panthers win their games. A 49ers loss can drop them to 6th seed if the Saints win. If the Saints lose and Arizona beats the Niners, the Cardinals will claim the 6th seed. Got it? The NFC West would then have three teams from the division to make the playoffs. The same happened in 2011 and 2006 when three representatives made the playoffs from the AFC South and NFC East, respectively.

After beating the Seahawks on the road, the Cardinals bandwagon is gaining weight. Apparently, they missed the memo on quarterback Carson Palmer. Somehow the team took the win with Palmer tossing four interceptions. Only Eli Manning has thrown more and only five quarterbacks have taken more sacks.

The Cardinals are a flash and crash team, offensively. They are supported by a defense ranked 7th overall, 5th in sacks, 4th in takeaways and 3rd in defensive touchdowns (tied with San Francisco and three other teams).

Expect the blunders to continue, but against the 49ers that problem is two-fold. San Francisco is ranked 10th in takeaways and 2nd in points off turnovers. They took advantage of four Arizona turnovers, for 16 points, during their 32-20 win at Candlestick in October.

That San Francisco team was a shell of the current squad. Aldon Smith and Michael Crabtree have returned since then, while the Niners have won 5 straight and appear to be in sync for another deep playoff run. Jim Harbaugh’s team should add to their streak Sunday. They have the Cardinals’ equation figured winning 8 of the previous 9 meetings, including 4 straight.

The Niners will establish Frank Gore and look for Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Crabtree downfield. They are facing a lesser team and if they eliminate the big plays off the arm of Palmer, they will cruise. San Francisco wins 31-10.

About C. A. Harrington Jr.

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