I'm not sure if such a prop existed before the season -- although I'm sure you could have requested it from some books -- but hopefully you didn't plop down any significant money on the Arizona Cardinals playing the Carolina Panthers in an NFC Championship Game rematch this January.
No teams have had a rematch in that game since the powerful Cowboys and 49ers played in it three straight times in the early 1990s. Right now, it appears that the Panthers and Cardinals will miss the playoffs entirely with both a surprising 1-3. I'll deal with Carolina in the Monday night preview this week. So Thursday's NFC West game at San Francisco is essentially a must-win for the Cards, who probably won't have Carson Palmer. Arizona is already two games behind the Seahawks and Rams in the division and down a tiebreaker to Los Angeles.
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As for San Francisco? Not much was expected from Coach Chip Kelly's team this season, and outside of a dominant defensive effort in Week 1 against the Rams not much has been given as the Niners enter on a three-game skid. I mean this in all seriousness: if the 49res finish something like 2-14, would Kelly give up on the NFL and return to college like Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban did? Oregon, which might have an opening after this struggling season, would surely take Kelly back in an instant. Southern Cal and LSU also could be calling him.
Cardinals at 49ers Betting Story Lines
The big story here is that it probably will be backup Drew Stanton making his first start under center for Arizona since last in the 2014 season. One reason I wasn't as high as many national experts on the Cardinals this year was because I didn't trust Palmer to stay healthy at age 36 or to perform well in a big game. He was absolutely terrible in Week 3's loss in Buffalo with four picks and no touchdowns. Palmer was a little better in Sunday's 17-13 home defeat to the Rams, going 23-for-36 for 288 yards with a TD and a pick. Palmer's head was slammed to the turf on a fourth-quarter sack by Aaron Donald, and Palmer is in the concussion protocol. I don't see how he will be ready by Thursday, although the Cardinals remain hopeful.
Stanton is a decent enough No. 2 and can win a few games for you. But he was just 4-for-11 for 37 yards and two picks, albeit one on a Hail Mary, in place of Palmer vs. the Rams. Stanton started eight games for Arizona in 2014 and was 5-3. I still don't understand why the Cardinals didn't take a QB to groom in the first round of this year's draft. There was some talk they were looking at Memphis' Paxton Lynch with the No. 29 overall pick, but Denver traded up to No. 26 and took him. Stanton's backup would be Zac Dysert, who was signed off the practice squad.
You might see a defensive change this week with Tyrann Mathieu returning to cornerback from safety. He has mostly played the latter because he's still working his way back from last season's torn ACL, but Mathieu says he's ready to "cut it loose." Palmer isn't the only Cardinal in question Thursday. Guys like running back Chris Johnson, safety Tyvon Branch and defensive tackles Josh Munro and Ed Stinson are all banged up.
Meanwhile, Kelly will stick with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback for now but I doubt it's for much longer as Gabbert is the NFL's 30th-rated quarterback (73.1) and averaging just 182.0 yards per game, last in the league among QBs who have started every game this year. If Colin Kaepernick were physically 100 percent, I think he'd be in there. I don't believe this has anything to do with his national anthem stance as some have speculated. The 49ers' point total has gone down every week. They led Dallas 14-0 late in the second quarter Sunday but allowed the Cowboys to score two quick TDs before the half. After intermission, Gabbert and Co. did nothing in a 24-17 loss. Other than tailback Carlos Hyde, this team just has no offensive talent.
The 49ers' best player is linebacker NaVorro Bowman, but he was lost for the season to a torn Achilles' tendon on Sunday on a non-contact play, a crushing loss. Bowman had made it all the way back to a Pro Bowl level after suffering very serious knee injuries in the NFC Championship Game vs. Seattle following the 2013 season and then missing all of 2014. He had 154 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year and was given a big new extension. Bowman had 35 tackles with a sack and interception in 2016. Here's hoping his career isn't over. Even with Bowman, that defense has been torched three weeks in a row. The Cowboys ran the ball at will Sunday after Bowman left.
Also expected out this game for the Niners is defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick this year. He has a foot injury. Monitor the status of receiver Jeremy Kerley (ankle) and cornerback Jimmie Ward (quadricep).
Cardinals at 49ers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Arizona is a 3-point favorite (-120) with a total of 42.5. The Cardinals are -170 on the moneyline and 49ers +150. On the alternate lines, the Cards are -3.5 (+105) and -2.5 (-145). Arizona is 1-3 against the spread this season (0-1 on road) and 1-3 "over/under" (1-0 on road). San Francisco is 1-3 ATS (1-1 at home) and 2-2 O/U (0-2 at home).
The Cardinals 19-7 ATS in their past 26 vs. teams with a losing record. They are 1-5 ATS in their past six on Thursday. The 49ers have covered five straight in Week 5. They are 3-8-1 ATS in their past 12 vs. the NFC West. San Francisco is 1-5 ATS in its past six on Thursday. The under is 9-3 in Arizona's past 12. It's 4-0 in its past four vs. the NFC West. The under is 8-1 in the Niners' past nine on Thursday. Arizona is 2-5 ATS in its past seven in San Francisco.
Cardinals at 49ers Betting Prediction
Arizona swept San Francisco last year, crushing the 49ers in the desert and escaping 19-13 in Santa Clara on a late 8-yard TD run from Palmer. Honestly didn't know he could still run. Kaepernick was the starter for the 49ers in the blowout and Gabbert in the close loss. This game is going to be really hard to watch from an offensive standpoint, I think. So I love the under. Give the 2.5-point alternate line as the Cardinals save their season for one week.
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