It is a Halloween night special as the undefeated (7-0) San Francisco 49ers take on the (3-4-1) Arizona Cardinals for Thursday Night Football today in week nine of the NFL season (8:20 PM ET live on FOX & NFL Network).
It has been said before but the 49ers are certainly this year’s biggest surprise story. Opening the year on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers rolled to their first of seven wins. They followed up that performance with victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals before an early bye in week four. After, came wins against the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers.
Looking at the schedule, it is clear that the Niners have made the most of their opportunities as they have faced some of the NFL’s least successful teams this year but a good team beats the ones they are supposed to beat. San Francisco has done just that and they have done it in a variety of ways. Their offense has been consistently performing above average. Led by Jimmy Garoppolo, who has one of the best records of any quarterback to start a career, the Niners combine just the right amount of a passing and rushing attack to be successful.
Garoppolo isn’t lighting up the scoreboards by any means, failing to top 300 yards in each of the games this year, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been effective. San Francisco’s offense is almost tailor-made for the young quarterback’s strengths and combined with an exceptional run game that has seen two different backs, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman, top the 100-yard mark on multiple occasions.
As good as San Fran’s offense has been, it’s their shutdown defense led by rookie pass rusher Nick Bosa, that has been the talk of the league. In seven starts, Bosa has collected seven sacks as well as 16 solo tackles, one forced fumble and one interception. No one has affected a game more this year than the defensive end from Ohio State, who is well on his way to the defensive rookie of the year and will have a shot at the defensive player of the year also. Especially if the Niners continue to dominate as they head into the meat of their schedule. Against some of the NFL’s worst teams, the Niners, have held opponents below 21 points every week including allowing a total of 20 points to their last four opponents. The real test will come, perhaps not this week against the Cardinals, but as the season progresses and the Niners prepare to do battle against some of the NFL’s best including divisional rival Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens all in short order.
They will also play the Cardinals twice in a three-week span and while this season has perhaps not gone, record-wise, the best for Arizona, Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense spurred on by rookie standout Kyler Murray, is always a threat to put points on the board.
When the Cardinals hired Kingsbury, the latest in a long line of successful college coaches to take an NFL job, there were questions and to a larger extent, doubts. Because Kingsbury ran something called an air raid offense where his QB would pass the ball 90 percent of the time. As his predecessors, such as Chip Kelly found out, high octane college offenses don’t always translate into the pros. Kingsbury got his off to a fine start thanks in large part to the man drafted to run the offense, Kyler Murray. In his first game, which was a tie against the Detroit Lions, Murray threw for 308 yards, 113 of them going to veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who can still run up and down the field like guys half his age. The Cardinals followed that up with three straight losses but Murray continued to rack up the miles. In three of the team’s eight games this season, the rookie QB has topped the 300-yard mark three times and has totaled just shy of 1,988 passing yards. That is good enough for top-15 in the league and best among his rookie counterparts.
Murray’s lack of touchdowns (he has just seven passing TD in eight games and just nine overall), is probably the most concerning part of his game right now and it certainly explains why the Cardinals have just three wins on the season. On the positive side, Murray is also a mobile quarterback with 279 rushing yards. While the two elements of his game have not yet come together, Murray is just a rookie and from what he has shown so far, his ceiling is pretty high.
As a mobile quarterback however, Murray is also vulnerable in the backfield. Whether it is his predisposition to leave the pocket or just a weakened line to begin with, Murray has been sacked 26 times this year, which is tied for third most among quarterbacks. In that regard, one of the top matchups to watch for on Halloween night, is Bosa vs Murray. It is a battle of rookies and Bosa will no doubt be looking to the favorable matchup to continue to pad his sack totals.
Our Betting Preview’s San Francisco 49ers vs Arizona Cardinals Predictions & Picks Verdict
It is an undefeated team taking on a sub.500 team so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Niners are somewhat heavy favorites with the trusted America-facing oddsmakers in this one. Even with the game being a home contest for the Cardinals.
That said, Arizona is riding an eight-game winning streak against San Francisco and have won nine of their last 10 against their divisional rival. As much as these sort of trends go, they are only as effective as the teams on the field. This 49ers team is better than any of the previous ones Arizona has faced so today’s Thursday Night Football clash will no doubt be a real test for the red birds. These are the San Francisco 49ers vs Arizona Cardinals predictions for this preview: