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49ers Schedule Preview 2013: Arizona Cardinals (Week 17)

We are mere months away from kickoff. Let's take a look at the storylines of Week 17's matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

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Ezra Shaw

It's hard to believe that just four seasons ago, the Arizona Cardinals were proudly perched atop the NFC West with a record of 10-6. Their impressive playoff run that led to a Super Bowl appearance was just a year before that. Oh, how time flies.

A month ago, I wrote about the winds of change blowing through Tempe. Since their Super Bowl appearance in 2008, the Cardinals have struggled to stay relevant, their throne usurped by division rivals. After Kurt Warner retired, seven different quarterbacks were asked to fill his shoes. None of them could. Then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt failed to revive the flailing franchise and, as a result, was fired after a last place finish in 2012.

The change was inevitable, and thus arrived the Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer era.

It's always difficult to speculate on the success of a team with a new head coach, and it's even tougher when you throw a new quarterback into the equation. All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is probably the only true constant that the Cardinals can count on. Outside of him, there are so many different variables and moving parts that make the Cards a true...well, wildcard.

Jul 29, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) carries the ball as cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) defends during training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The good news? The Cardinals do have a few young, promising players from which they can establish a foundation for the future

Defensive-end Calais Campbell, who recently signed a five-year, $55 million contract extension, has averaged seven sacks per season over the last four years. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington made the 2012 All-Pro team and is considered by many to be one of the best in the game at his position. Cornerback Patrick Peterson made an immediate impact during his rookie season in 2011 when he tied the league record for most punt return touchdowns in a single season (4). Peterson was a first-team All-Pro as a return-man, and he's quickly coming into his own in the coverage game as well.

All three players are 26 or younger.

The bad news for the Cardinals is that they play in arguably the toughest division in professional football. They have some building blocks to play with, but for a team in the most infantile stages of rebuilding, it's going to be a long and painful process.

Many people aren't expecting Arizona to do much in 2013 in regards to their own win column, but they could certainly have an impact on the other teams in the division. For the San Francisco 49ers, it will be their last game of the season. With the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams being legitimate threats to the division crown, this game could be the difference between a first-round bye, a wildcard slot, or even making the playoffs at all.

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