Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 9:00 PM
The last time the San Francisco 49ers took the field, it was in an NFC West defensive war that took place in prime time on national TV. This time…same story! Except now the Niners are visiting the Arizona Cardinals on a Monday Night instead of hosting the Seattle Seahawks on a Thursday Night. NFL bettors must determine if we’re going to see a replay at a very similar pointspread…or if having a few extra days off will lead to stunning developments.
We’ll run the boxscore from 49ers-Seahawks in a moment. That could well be the blueprint that tonight’s game is going to follow. First let’s run through our other indicator data that naturally deals with a much bigger sample size. It’s dangerous for handicappers to get locked into one way of looking at a matchup. Let’s see if the Cardinals have a chance to score an upset over the division favorites…and if this game has a chance to be something more exciting than a punting snoozefest!
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS at ARIZONA CARDINALS (8:35 p.m. on ESPN)
Las Vegas Spread: San Francisco by 6.5, total of 37.5
You’ll recall that San Francisco was favored by a shade more than this at home vs. Seattle, with a similar total. The site switch tells you that the market currently sees San Francisco as 9.5 points better than Arizona on a neutral field, and Seattle as 5.5 points better than Arizona on a neutral field. Why are the Cards getting so little respect with a winning record? That’s an additional question you need to be pondering as we go through the numbers. Arizona has wins over New England, Philadelphia, and Seattle!
WON-LOST RECORDS (scheduled strength according to USA Today)
San Francisco: 5-2 (6th ranked schedule)
Arizona: 4-3 (13th ranked schedule)
The Niners have fared well against a very tough early schedule. It’s bad luck indeed to draw both Green Bay and the NY Giants within your first six games. San Francisco split those on the way to a 5-2 record that has them at the top of what some consider the toughest division in the NFL this year. To us, it depends on how much credit you choose to give Arizona for the wins over NE and Philly…the market is giving the Cards and the NFC West less respect than the media is for those upsets. It’s tough to nitpick about a team that went 4-3 against an average schedule! Yet, isn’t being priced as a Wildcard contender even if the standings suggest they might be.
San Francisco: +2
San Francisco has cooled off in this stat after blowing the doors off it last year. The laws of math were bound to catch up to them. But, something like +2 against a killer schedule is still pretty good. Coach Jim Harbaugh is on top of the risk/reward challenge. He’s trying to expand what quarterback Alex Smith is capable of without having it all blow up in their faces. Arizona’s done well considering their quarterback situation. We’re skeptical that the Cards will grade out better than the Niners once a full 16-game season is in the books.
San Francisco: 376.4 yards-per-game on 6.1 yards-per-play
Arizona: 293.4 yards-per-game on 4.4 yards-per-play
This is a little misleading because San Francisco had a 621 yard, 9.9 YPP dance party against the horrible defense of Buffalo. It’s better to think of them as a team that’s going to settle in the 320-350 range most games in total yardage, and in the mid 5’s on yards-per-play. That’s still good enough to get the job done when you have a great defense (which they do). Arizona’s offenses is one of the worst we’ve ever seen. It’s very hard to be SO BAD that you’re only at 4.4 yards-per-play this deep into the season. A couple of overtime games have helped them spike their per-game yardage a bit. The shortest way to paint the picture…Arizona had a bad offensive game against Buffalo!
San Francisco: 272.3 yards-per-game on 4.6 yards-per-play
Arizona: 312.1 yards-per-game on 4.8 yards-per-play
Two great defenses here. San Francisco’s done it against a tougher schedule…and deserves respect for that. Just remember that Arizona’s defense wasn’t outmatched on the road at New England. Just like we saw in Seattle/San Francisco…two great defenses are in position to control the flow of the game. To the degree Arizona has a shot to crash the playoff party, it’s because of what’s happening on this side of the ball.
LAST WEEK’S BOXES
SAN FRANCISCO 13, SEATTLE 6
Total Yardage: Seattle 251, San Francisco 313
Rushing Yards: Seattle 136, San Francisco 175
Passing Stats: Seattle 9-23-1-115, San Francisco 14-23-1-138
Turnovers: Seattle 1, San Francisco 1
Third Downs: Seattle 31%, San Francisco 27%
Vegas Line: San Francisco by 7.5, total of 38
There you go…yardage between the 20’s but not much scoring. Both teams struggled on third downs. There was only one touchdown the whole game. Arizona’s defense is very close to Seattle’s through this point in the season…meaning that’s the possible blueprint. Same pointspread…similar offensive edge for San Francisco in a way that’s the straight up difference-maker in a game that lands near the Vegas pointspread. (So, why didn’t Vegas drop the total down several points?!)
MINNESOTA 21, ARIZONA 14
Total Yardage: Arizona 356, Minnesota 209
Rushing Yards: Arizona 126, Minnesota 166
Passing Stats: Arizona 25-36-1-230, Minnesota 8-17-2-43
Turnovers: Arizona 2, Minnesota 2
Third Downs: Arizona 43%, Minnesota 10%
Vegas Line: Minnesota by 6, total of 39.5
We talked about this last Thursday from the Minnesota perspective. Arizona’s defense played great here, posting dominating numbers. The Vikings scored 21 points because Arizona quarterback John Skelton threw a TD pass to the wrong team. Take that away…and we have a scoreboard toss-up on the field where San Francisco lost to Minnesota. Arizona does have a chance to make Monday Night a thriller if they can avoid mistakes on offense and move the chains enough to kick some field goals.
It’s hard to say that a rematch of a game with only 19 points scored is a best expectation in the NFL. But…you would have to say unequivocally that a “defensive struggle” is the best expectation. Maybe that’s 13-6…maybe that’s 16-10…maybe that’s 20-13. Vegas looks to be allowing for cheap points off of turnovers with its Over/Under estimate…or is giving Harbaugh credit for creativity with the extra preparation time off a Monday Night game.
You know Arizona’s home crowd is going to be rabid for the Monday Night TV cameras. You know the defense is going to be fired up for a chance to make a statement about where they stand in the division and in the league. To us…the side and total results come down to these two things:
*What new wrinkles did SF add in their additional prep time?
*Can Arizona avoid him impact turnovers that set up easy SF points?
Arizona can win this game if they play clean and the Niners don’t bring anything new to the table. Arizona can be down 21-0 in the second quarter if they give the ball away and don’t anticipate San Francisco surprises.
JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his on-site sources to get the best read possible for this game. Sometimes the keys to handicapping a high profile matchup are situational. Sometimes they’re statistical. And, sometimes it’s INFORMATION about strategy or preparation that carries the most weight.
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