Monday Night Football Predictions: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Monday, October 29, 2012
by Frank Martin
For the second consecutive week, the San Francisco 49ers will get a chance to make a prime-time pitch to assert their command of the NFC West race when they travel to the desert to face the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. The 49ers are coming off a 13-6 win over Seattle last Thursday that put them back atop the division standings alone, but they'll need to hand Arizona its fourth straight loss to remain there. The Cardinals won their first four games, but they've fallen flat the past three weeks with losses to St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota.
Arizona has averaged just 11 points during the losing streak, and the offense is in for a challenge against a San Francisco team that leads the NFL in total defense (272.3 yards per game) and ranks second in scoring defense (14.3 points per game). Kevin Kolb (ribs) had not been ruled out as of Thursday, but John Skelton is expected to make his second straight start at quarterback for the Cardinals.
San Francisco 49ers (5-2): San Francisco usually knows what to expect from its dominant defense, but the offense has been a bit of an enigma. The 49ers put up 79 points in consecutive blowouts of the Jets and Bills, but they've scored just 16 points in their past two games. Quarterback Alex Smith's inconsistency has resurfaced with two straight lackluster efforts. Look for the 49ers to feed running back Frank Gore against a Cardinals defense that has been much better against the pass than the run.
Arizona Cardinals (4-3): Injuries have decimated Arizona's offense, which is leaning on LaRod Stephens-Howling - who started the season as the third-string back - to carry the load. Stephens-Howling had a career-high 104 rushing yards and a touchdown last week, and the Cardinals will need another strong effort from him against a 49ers defense that is dominant against the pass. Arizona's pass rush has been strong, producing 22 sacks (third in the NFL), and getting pressure on Smith will be key to the Cardinals' success.
1. The 49ers have won five of the past six meetings, but the Cardinals won the most recent one - 21-19 last December in Arizona - behind three touchdown passes from Skelton.
2. San Francisco is 13-0 when Smith starts and has a rating of 100 or higher. He has won 19 of his past 24 starts.
3. Skelton is 6-0 at home as a starter, including last year's win over the 49ers in which he had a career-best 106.5 rating.
NFL Football Prediction: 49ers 23, Cardinals 16.
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