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Game of the Week: 49ers at Cardinals
Most foresaw the NFC West as a two-team race in 2014 between the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, they of 36 regular-season wins in the past three years. While this ultimately may be the case, the onset of the NFL campaign sees the Arizona Cardinals atop the division. With an impressive opener against the Chargers and notching a road W versus the Giants, the Cards look to keep the good fortune going in Week 3 against the Niners. This desert storm serves as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised at the Cardinals' 2-0 start. After all, this was a club that racked up 10 wins last fall and flaunted one of the conference's best defenses. Alas, this same resistance took a hit with All-Pro linebacker Daryl Washington's year-long suspension. Worse, the unit also lost the services of Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett, and after suffering a concussion in Week 1, John Abraham left the team. On paper, the defense looked to be more bark than bite.
Yet through the first two games, the Cards have surrendered just 31 points. Veteran Larry Foote has proved he still has gas left in the tank at age 34, leading the team with 16 tackles (three for losses) and snagging an interception. Moreover, Arizona still boasts one of the best defensive playmakers in Patrick Peterson. Though they lack household names, the Cardinals' D will prove to be a nightmare for opponents all season long.
However, it's not all sunshine in Phoenix. Star back Andre Ellington is hobbled with foot pain, and starting arm Carson Palmer missed Week 2 action with a nerve issue in his shoulder. With an upcoming Bye in Week 4, Palmer will likely miss this week's contest, putting extra emphasis on Drew Stanton. To his credit, Stanton wasn't horrible in relief, but he was far from solid against a so-so Giants defense. For Bruce Arians and company to stay relevant, Stanton will need to elevate his game to an echelon that he may be unable to reach.
A rendezvous with a backup quarterback is just what the doctored ordered for the Niners, who limp into Arizona after losing their stadium's home opener to the Bears. San Francisco turned in a forgettable performance on Sunday night, giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter and committing 16 penalties on the day. Coupled with a shaky second-half display in Week 1 against the Cowboys, the merit of the 49ers is suddenly in doubt.
These mumblings can be subsided with a sound effort from Colin Kaepernick. The spotlight's on the San Fran signal caller after getting a team-friendly contract extension this offseason, and so far, Kaepernick has not lived up to expectations with four turnovers to three scores. A concerted effort was made by the franchise to surround Kaepernick with weapons, evidenced in the draft selection of Carlos Hyde and acquisitions of Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. If Kaepernick fails to make strides in 2014, don't be surprised if the Niners start looking for a replacement.
So who emerges victorious in this Week 3 battle? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com NFL simulation engine, the 49ers come out on top 58.6 percent of the time by an average margin of 22-19. For the rest of this week's projections and predictions, check below:
Please Note: The Raiders-Patriots, Redskins-Eagles, Buccaneers-Falcons, Vikings-Saints, Broncos-Seahawks, 49ers-Cardinals, Texans-Giants, Cowboys-Rams and Colts-Jaguars games were re-simulated on 9/18 to account for injuries and roster updates.
NFL Week 3 Predictions
|Matchup||Win %||Avg. Score|
|@ New England Patriots||86.9||29||Simulate Game|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||66.0||27||Simulate Game|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||34.2||22||Boxscore|
|@ Atlanta Falcons||65.8||27||Simulate Game|
|@ Cincinnati Bengals||64.2||22||Simulate Game|
|@ New Orleans Saints||63.7||27||Simulate Game|
|@ Carolina Panthers||61.9||24||Simulate Game|
|San Diego Chargers||43.2||23||Boxscore|
|@ Buffalo Bills||56.8||25||Simulate Game|
|Kansas City Chiefs||49.2||20||Boxscore|
|@ Miami Dolphins||50.8||21||Simulate Game|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||50.2||23||Simulate Game|
|San Francisco 49ers||58.6||22||Boxscore|
|@ Arizona Cardinals||41.4||19||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Jets||41.2||18||Simulate Game|
|@ Cleveland Browns||40.9||18||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Giants||36.4||19||Simulate Game|
|Green Bay Packers||71.6||29||Boxscore|
|@ Detroit Lions||28.4||21||Simulate Game|
|@ St. Louis Rams||26.9||20||Simulate Game|
|@ Jacksonville Jaguars||16.5||15||Simulate Game|
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