Once again, the San Francisco 49ers have navigated early-season injuries, and a season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears, and find themselves well positioned to make a late-season run.
At 5-4, they’re roster is as strong as it has ever been with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. With a running back tandem of Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk leading a deep wide receiver corps, a healthy George Kittle and Trent Williams, and the ninth-best weighted defensive DVOA in the league, the 49ers are as dangerous as any team going down the home stretch of the NFL season.
They’re still behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, but that might only be until the end of the 49ers’ Monday Night Football matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. A win tonight gives the Niners the same record as the Seahawks who are on a bye this week. The 49ers beat the Seahawks at home in Week 2, and the two teams will meet again in Seattle in Week 15.
All that San Fran has to do to keep trending upward is to make sure they don’t blow this Week 11 game.
The Cardinals are without Kyler Murray for the second consecutive week. They won their Week 10 matchup against the division rival Rams, but the Super Bowl champions’ title defense has been a mess from the start. Also, they too went into that game with a backup quarterback behind center.
For most of this season, the Cardinals have appeared disorganized and disjointed. For all of the speed and skill on offense, it is one of the worst units in the NFL. Top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins returned from his six-week PEDs suspension has helped, but the offense still has one of the league’s worst DVOA ratings.
Still, while the Cardinals’ offense hasn’t always been the most cohesive unit, players that are explosive always have the potential to cause problems. Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Robby Anderson have the talent to put an unfocused defense quickly behind on the scoreboard.
The Niners can’t let that happen. Falling a game behind the Seahawks would be extremely difficult to make up in the final seven weeks of the regular season. After a home game next week against the struggling New Orleans Saints, the 49ers go up against the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seahawks, and surging Washington Commanders.
During that same stretch, the Seahawks host the Las Vegas Raiders next week, and then go up against the Rams and lowly Carolina Panthers before hosting the 49ers. If the Seahawks start this stretch, after their bye, up a game, they would have a chance to close the division race before their Christmas Eve matchup on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs.
If the 49ers want to win a championship, they need to try and avoid going on the road in four consecutive rounds. Even the Cincinnati Bengals hosted one playoff game on their way to the Super Bowl last season.
One less week of travel, and a matchup against a wild-card team in the first round, could be just the push that the 49ers need to get them over the hump. But in order to put their team in that position, they can’t have a let down against the Cardinals.