Monthly Magazine: Arizona Edition

September 26, 2023

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

© Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Surprise, surprise, surprise. That was the prevailing notion on Sunday when the Cardinals pulled off the NFL’s biggest upset in Week 2. Arizona was an 11.0-point underdog heading into its game with Dallas but walked away from State Farm Stadium with a convincing 28-16 victory that blew up survivor pools from coast-to-coast.

It left everyone scratching their heads. After all, the Cardinals were the odds-on favorite heading into the season to earn the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. They were the team expected to go winless for the longest time this season.

How did they beat one of the Super Bowl favorites in the NFC? Is Jonathan Gannon’s team not as bad as everyone thought? Is something cooking in the desert?

Those are the big questions heading into another mismatch. On paper, the Cardinals shouldn’t be able to hang with the 49ers. But as last Sunday showed, anything is possible in the NFL.

What to like about the Cardinals…

  • Arizona used a balance attack to keep a normally stout Dallas defense guessing in Week 2. They amassed a total of 400 yards of offense on the day, with 178 coming through the air and 222 being accumulated on the ground. This rushing attack, led by 98 yards on 14 carries from James Conner, helped take pressure off Joshua Dobbs. They quarterback responded with a very efficient effort, completing 17-of-21 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown, while throwing zero interceptions.
  • The Cards have been in every game this season. Believe it or not, they could easily be 3-0. They had a shot on the road in their opener, falling 20-16 at Washington. Then, they blew a big lead in Week 2, eventually losing 31-28 to the Giants. A play here or there and Arizona would be the surprise team of the NFL. Gannon is certainly getting the most out of a roster than few respected, as the Cardinals have played inspired football through three games.

What not to like about the Cardinals…

  • The 49ers are the NFL’s most-complete team. They boast the league’s fourth-best offense, averaging 399.0 yards per game, while scoring 30.0 points every Sunday. They also have the third-ranked defense, giving up just 258.3 yards and 14.0 points per game. En route to their 3-0 record, the 49ers are winning by an average of 16.0 points, as they’re simply dominating opponents.
  • Christian McCaffrey is arguably the most-dangerous weapon in the NFL. The 49ers running back is leading the league in rushing with 353 yards on 60 carries, while also totaling four touchdowns. He’s also hauled in 11 passes for another 70 yards. He’s averaging more than 140 yards for scrimmage per game, as Kyle Shanahan has found creative ways to get the dynamic back the football.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Arizona +14.0 (-110)

Even though the 49ers beat the Steelers by 23 and the Giants by 18, their Week 2 game against the Rams gives the Cardinals hope. San Francisco beat Los Angeles, but it was tight. The 30-23 final score shows that teams can hang with the Niners. If Arizona can run the ball, limiting San Francisco’s possessions, they can keep things close. Look for a heavy dose of James Conner on Sunday.