Week 17 preview: Arizona Cardinals host 49ers to end season, make playoff statement

Once more unto the breach, my friends; once more. (photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Once more unto the breach, my friends; once more.
(photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Setting the stage

Although it is not a win-and-in like the Arizona Cardinals would have hoped, Sunday’s game against the rival San Francisco 49ers is no less important.

With a win and a New Orleans loss, Arizona will be playoff-bound. If only the Cardinals could rent away some players to Buccaneers, then one of the NFL’s worst teams would have a better shot at helping the Cardinals and their postseason hopes.

(photo credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

(photo credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

It’s all hands on deck for the Birdgang, though. All the hoping and praying directed toward the Superdome will be all for naught if Bruce Arians’ team cannot claim victory at University of Phoenix Stadium, especially when the opponent is a 49ers team that could be competing for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

All of this is to say that the stakes could not be higher for this game.

Here’s a look at some of the matchups to watch in Sunday’s game.

Michael Crabtree vs Patrick Peterson

Arizona was incredibly lucky when they played the 49ers the first time, as star wideout Michael Crabtree was out in the first matchup due to injury.

Which makes his presence in this game very, very concerning. The last time Crabtree played against the Arizona Cardinals was the 2012 season finale. The former Texas Tech standout caught eight passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Needless to say, if that same Crabtree takes over this game, Arizona will have a tough time keeping it close.

With Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin complementing him, Arizona will almost certainly be unable stop the 49er passing game, but if there is one guy that Arizona doesn’t want to see in a groove, it is Crabtree.

San Francisco run game vs Arizona run stoppers

(photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

(photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Arizona’s defense was brutally exposed in the last matchup against San Francisco, allowing 140 yards on the ground. The number is modest, but San Francisco’s rushing allowed them to pound Arizona late in the game, rattling off a 18 play, 83 yard drive, taking 9 minutes and 32 seconds off the clock to put the 49ers up by two possessions.

I hate to play the hypothetical game, but if the run defense does what they’re supposed to on that drive, Arizona stays in that game, and today could be playing for homefield instead of the small chance of a playoff spot. Arizona has the talent and the personnel to do it. It’s all about execution now.

New Orleans vs Tampa Bay

Okay, this one is cheap, I know. But the true Cardinals fan will either have this game on Gamecast while the Cards-49ers game is on, or have it on picture-in-picture or something. Really, everything is for naught if this outcome doesn’t got the Cardinals way. Go Bucs!

Prediction

At home, feeding off the momentum of that Seahawks game, Arizona has a lot of fuel and motivation in this game. With the finish line in sight, I don’t think Bruce Arians allows his team to get complacent, and I think this game is as much statement as anything for the Cardinals. This is their chance to show they belong in the playoffs, and even if they don’t make it, you can bet they want to enter 2014 on a win streak. Go Arizona Cardinals, ARZ 28-10 SF.