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Top 10 Spotlight: 49ers vs. Cardinals

Posted Dec 28, 2013

The San Francisco 49ers wrap up regular season play with a Week 17 rivalry matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

The San Francisco 49ers wrap up regular season play with a Week 17 rivalry matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.  The 49ers have won three in a row over the Cardinals, including eight out of the last nine matchups. With a win, San Francisco would sweep the season series against Arizona for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

Here are the top 10 storylines for Sunday’s 49ers-Cardinals game.

10. Floyd on the Rise
Michael Floyd has emerged in the second half of the regular season. The former first-round draft pick leads Arizona with 59 receptions for 950 yards. Floyd has five touchdown catches, second behind veteran Larry Fitzgerald’s 10 scores. Floyd poses a deep threat for the Cardinals. The young play-maker averages 16.1 yards per reception. San Francisco will need to defend Arizona’s vertical passing plays, especially with Floyd on the rise. In a Week 6 victory by the 49ers, Fitzgerald broke a few tackles to score a 75-yard touchdown. It was the longest play allowed by San Francisco’s defense all season.

9. Patton as No. 3
Quinton Patton is another young receiver to spotlight for this divisional game. With the news of Mario Manningham being placed on Injured Reserve, Patton steps into the role of No. 3 receiver for the 49ers offense. Patton, a fourth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, suffered a broken bone in his foot earlier in the season, but the speedy receiver always remained in the team’s plans. Patton only has one catch on the season, but could be more involved in the coming weeks. Kassim Osgood could also figure into the team’s passing attack. The special teams standout caught his first pass with the 49ers last week for a 17-yard gain. It was his first reception since 2011.

8. Defending 100

The 49ers enter Week 17 as the only team in the NFL to not allow a 100-yard rusher. San Francisco’s steady rush defense ranks No. 5 in the NFL, allowing 96.8 yards per game. The 100-yard barrier, however, might not be tested this week. Arizona’s chances of reaching 100 dwindle with the use of a two-headed rushing attack. Veteran Rashard Mendenhall (207 rushes, 640 yards and eight touchdowns) is joined in the backfield by rookie Andre Ellington (109 rushes, 622 yards and three touchdowns). San Francisco is well aware of the threat each runner poses. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio highlighted Ellington as one of the steals of the 2013 draft.
7. Pro Bowl Showcase
The 49ers tied the Kansas City Chiefs with a league-high eight Pro Bowl selections. San Francisco’s Pro Bowl representatives aim to not play in the game, but after being named as part of the NFL’s All-Star team, those eight players will look to showcase the reasons they were selected by coaches, players and fans. Furthermore, deserving player who were selected as alternates will look to prove why they belonged as Pro Bowlers. Donte Whitner, for example, was pretty adamant about being snubbed. Look for “Hitner” to take his frustrations out in Arizona.

6. Brock's Body Slams

Speaking of physicality, Tramaine Brock has demonstrated a brand of hard-hitting play in recent weeks. The 49ers are 5-0 with Brock starting in base personnel. The fourth-year cornerback said his body-slamming techniques have been part of his game as far back as high school. San Francisco’s team-leader with five interceptions also has 33 tackles, many of which were aggressive in nature. At 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, Brock plays with the tenacity of a strong safety.

5. Gore 10K Watch

Frank Gore is approaching 10,000 career rushing yards. It would be fitting for him to reach the milestone against a long-time rival like the Cardinals. Reaching 10k will be even tougher considering Arizona ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the rush, allowing 84.5 yards per game. Gore needs 47 rushing yards to reach the milestone and would become the 29th player in team history to accomplish the feat.
4. 'Kap' Closing in on Young
Colin Kaepernick, too, will be spotlighted for his rushing yards. The 49ers quarterback is 38 yards shy of breaking Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young’s single-season franchise rushing record for a quarterback. Young rushed for 537 yards with four touchdowns in 1992. Kaepernick has 500 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games this season.

3. Crabtree vs. Peterson
The game within the game this week has to be Michael Crabtree matching up with Patrick Peterson. The promising players have enjoyed competitive battles on a yearly basis. They didn’t compete in Week 6 with Crabtree on the mend from an Achilles injury, but it’s expected that the rivalry will resume on Sunday. So far, Crabtree has been dominant in previous meetings. The fifth-year receiver has 27 catches, 427 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the past four games against Arizona.

2. Picking Off Palmer

Carson Palmer has been known to be aggressive with the football. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Palmer, an 11-year veteran, has 22 touchdown passes and a career-high 21 interceptions this season. Palmer has thrown 20-or-more interceptions in three different NFL seasons. Palmer was intercepted four times in Arizona’s upset road win over the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers will look to capitalize if Palmer forces the ball into tight windows this week.
1. Playoff Implications
Playoff implications are on the line for both teams in the regular season finale. Arizona needs a win and a loss by the New Orleans Saints to become the third NFC West club to clinch a playoff berth. The 49ers, on the other hand, are already postseason eligible, but need a victory and wins by St. Louis and Atlanta to be the NFC’s No. 1 seed.


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