Sports Out West

49ers Week 17 primer: Playoff positioning still at stake

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Both the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals will have something the play for in Week 17. If the 49ers win, they will be at worst the number five seed in the playoffs and avoid traveling to Seattle for a possible second round matchup. There is also the possibility, if the Seahawks lose to the St. Louis Rams, that the Niners could win the division and get a first round bye with a victory. As for Arizona, they are hanging on to slim playoff hopes and will need some help in the form of a loss from the New Orleans Saints. There is a very real possibility that Arizona could finish 11-5 and miss the playoffs.

Recent History

The 49ers 32-20 victory in Week 6 earlier this year could easily be titled “The Vernon Davis Show.” The dynamic tight end caught 8 passes for 180 yards and scored twice. The touchdown receptions were each of the big play variety, coming from 35 and 61 yards out. While the final score would give the appearance of a comfortable 49er win, the game was in doubt late in the third quarter. Down by only two points, the Cardinals were driving deep into San Francisco territory when Larry Fitzgerald fumbled. The ball was recovered by Eric Reid at the Niner’s 11-yard line. San Francisco went on from there to seal the game with an 18 play, 89 yard drive that took nine and half minutes off the clock. The long march was capped off by a six-yard touchdown run by Kendall Hunter who was spelling work horse Frank Gore. Gore carried the ball 25 times on the day and gained 80 of his 105 yards in the second half.

Players to watch

After a 97 yard performance in Week 16, Frank Gore finds himself only 47 yards away from 10,000 for his career. While the 49ers will want to keep him fresh for the playoffs, they need this win like they would any other and will ride their workhorse. If Gore does reach that magic number, he’ll become the 29th player in NFL history to do so. 

While Fitzgerald gets most of the attention, it’s his counterpart Michael Floyd that is having a breakout season. The former Notre Dane star leads the Cardinals with 950 yards receiving. Floyd is making the most out of his 59 catches, averaging 16.1 yards every time he hauls in a pass. Out of his five touchdowns, none may have been bigger than the 31 yarder he caught late in the game to defeat the Seahawks in their building in Week 16. Seattle had won 14 straight games at home.

Game changing factor

While the Cardinals may be the best team no one knows about, their penchant for turning the ball over is what could be the difference. Carson Palmer has been intercepted 21 times this season and a couple of poorly thrown balls will be all the 49ers need to win a tight battle. The Arizona offense has turned the ball over 29 times on the season and they can’t afford mistakes against a very opportunistic San Francisco defense that has 28 takeaways.  In contrast, the 49ers have only turned the ball over 18 times all season.

Stats to know

The Cardinals defense is quietly one of the best in the NFL and they can beat teams in a lot of different ways. Led by John Abraham, Arizona has a potent pass rush that ranks fifth in the league with 45 sacks. That pressure has been the driving force behind 30 forced turnovers which ranks fourth overall. As far as the running game, the Cardinals have allowed a league low 1268 yards and are second in yards allowed per rush at 3.7. 

Bottom line

With something to play for and outcomes of games still in doubt, both teams will badly want a win here. Considering the Cardinals penchant for turnovers and the fact that the 49ers take good care of the football, look for Arizona mistakes to be the difference. 

Photo: Brant Ward/The Chronicle

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a staff writer for 49erswebzone.com and 49ersgab.com. He is also a contributor to Yahoo! Voices and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders.