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Focus on: 49ers v. Cardinals...

Hey Nation! Long time no talk! I've kind of gone into hiding lately because of the beginning of grad school at Villa-no-fun. But FINALLY things have slowed down enough for me to begin writing here at NN on a regular basis, and just in time too. In juuuuust about 50 hours from the time this post goes up, the Niners will be taking the field vs the hated Cards.

So in this, the longest Friday EVER, I'm here to give all of you the easy reference for this weekend's match-up. I'll be analyzing key matchups, meaningful historical encounters, players to watch, yada yada yada. So lets do this:

Key Match-up: 49ers CBs vs Cardinals WRs

If you are playing fantasy football, you should know that this is the first time in a while that there has been a WR that is not only dangerous enough, but consistent enough, to be drafted early in the first round, and thats Larry Fitzgerald. No need to describe his accolades and accomplishments further here. Combine him with a seemingly-less-disgruntled-with-his-contract Anquan Boldin, and you have one of, if the most, potent WR tandems in the NFL today. Why are they so good? Simple; Y-A-C (or yards after catch). Fitz and Bolden can shake tackles, or break-away from the other 21 players on the field by emptying the NOS tanks and serving CB's a plate full of dust for them to dine on. Steve Breaston is another WR the Niners can not afford to overlook because of great wheels and better hands.

That being said, we shift to the Niners back D: Nate Clements has yet to live up to that contract but has seen this offensive tandem before. Dre Bly is also extremely familiar with the Card's WR's as well as the man throwing them the rock, Kurt Warner (The two won a Super Bowl together in 1999, and went to another one two years later). The big "Receding Hair-Line Accelerator" is Shawntae Spencer at right CB. The plus - his size (6'1" - 190 lbs) will help him keep up with the pretty tall Fitz (6'3" - 217 lbs) and Boldin (6'1" - 217 lbs), compared to the slightly smaller Bly (5'10" - 188 lbs) and Clements (6'0" - 205lbs).

Injury wise, Boldin is coming off of a hamstring "tweak" from the preseason and hasn't practiced in a few weeks, but according to him he should be good to go Sunday. The edge definately lies with the Cards here. I mean, their WR corps (core? ha) is the main reason why they did so well last season, and why they are predicted to do so well this season. Needless to say, if nothing else this will be trial-by-fire for Shawntae, and if you want to see whether Manusky and Singletary made a good decision starting this man, we will learn Sunday.

After the jump: Player to Watch, Player to Loath, Fantasy Superstar/Sleeper, and some more SF/AZ Prep...

Player to watch: Shaun Hill

Well Shaun, here's your chance. You had an "open and fair QB competition" this preseason (wink wink) against Alex Smith, and you came out on top. You are the man in SF, as long as you keep doing what you've been doing as a Niner (7-3 as a starter, with a 90.5 QB rating). It took til your 4th season to play a down in the NFL, til your 6th to throw an NFL pass, and now your 8th to start a season opener. That being said, this is only the second time you will have faced the Cardinals as a starter (the first one being that god-forsaken MNF loss last year... Don't worry I'm getting to that), and your 4th starting game against the NFC West (2-1 record). This is the time to show all the haters that you are no journeyman, and you are the best "game manager" since the 2000 version of Trent Dilfer.

Player to loathe: Kurt Warner

Ok... It might be me, but are there any other Niner fans out there that HAAAAAATE Kurt Warner? Let me spell it out for you. First, statistically why he sucks: Warner is 9-1 against the Niners during his career. In those games he threw 23 TDs, 10 INTs, and had a QB rating of 102.7. Damn. Oh, and all of those games have been as a Ram or Cardinal. Double damn.

Now, emotionally why he sucks: This summer, Warner played "just-the-tip" with the Niners franchise. Kurt wanted a nice, fat contract from the Cards following a SB season, and the two-year, $20 million wasn't enough for him. So he decided to flirt a bit with the rival Niners. He came, he saw, he got a contract offer, and then took the Niners company jet back to AZ to sign with the Cards for $23 million. The Niners were used like a box of Kleenex at an orgy; quickly and sloppily.

I hope Patrick snaps him in two...

Fantasy Superstar?

By Superstar, I essentially mean who will be getting the most fantasy points in this matchup, and here its a simple question between Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald. While Larry is the deep threat, capable of a 12-fantasy-point play at any point in time, Frank is wound up and ready to be unleashed in the Raye offense methinks. Jimmy won't make the Marzian mistake of not giving Frank the Tank the ball on the goal-line, and I think that results in 2 or 3 TD's (the optimist in me is coming out...).

Fantasy Surprise?

By Surprise, I mean who will gain a lot of points, seemingly, out of nowhere. For this game, how about Josh Morgan? Morgan looked OK during the pre-season, and with a certain #10 pick watching this game from home, will be getting a lot more touches than expected 2 months ago. Starting across from a talented (albeit aging) Issac Bruce, he might not garner the attention he deserves, and that could be dangerous for AZ. I wouldn't necessarily start the man as your #1 WR, but I would definitely have to think about it as a #2, #3 or Flex player.

Oh, and don't forget...

November 10th, 2009. Monday Night Football in Arizona. The game that has lived in infamy. We all know the story, Niners driving with the clock winding down to the end of the game, down by five. In the closing seconds the Niners get to the 2.5 yard line, and instead of using our starting, all-pro running back Frank Gore, some "Offensive Genius" decided it was a good idea to put Michael Robinson in, resulting in a Zero yard run, and a loss.

If everything else that season stayed the same (hypothetically), the Niners and Cardinals would end the season with 8-8 records each, and the Niners would have split the season series with the Cards. The Cards would still have won the division with a better division record (5-1 vs 4-2 for the Niners), but mayyyyyyyybe the team can't get over the dramatic loss, maybe they lose one more game, maybe the Niners eek out one more victory (say, against the Dolphins) with the increased confidence and make the playoffs. I don't think I will ever get over that crappy play, but hell, why not use it as motivation for the future?

And to top it all off, some random AZ/SF facts:

  • The Niners and Cardinals have met 35 times dating alll the wayyy back to 1951 with San Fran holding a 19-16 lead in the all-time series. However, since Arizona joined the NFC West, the series is tied 7-7.
  • Over the past ten meetings between SF and AZ, the average margin of victory is just 6.7 points. Three games went into overtime and only two of the games have been decided by more than one score (both won by AZ).
  • In six of the past seven seasons (the exception being last season) one team has swept the season series.

Looking a bit ahead...

I know no-one should be looking ahead, but in the first four weeks of the season the Niners have three NFC West games (this one, Next week vs Seattle, and week four vs St. Louis). Biig stretch coming up...

It should be an interesting opening game. Optimism and confidence is high, lets hope our boys can follow through. LETS GO NINERS!!!