For the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals is simply an opportunity to grow as a team. It’s a young roster with a young coaching staff and those of us watching at home care more about how guys like DeForest Buckner and Trent Taylor perform than the actual final score — though a win would be nice, of course.
But for the Cardinals, Sunday’s game is quite a bit different. The Cardinals are not a championship team in the throws of desperate struggle, but they are a fringe team with high hopes at competing with some very, very good aging players. The NFC West is one of the more winnable divisions in football, and the division-leading Los Angeles Rams are extremely beatable.
The Cardinals are 1-2, a lot worse off than they hoped after three weeks of play. But Bruce Arians’ team is still in the running, especially in the NFC West. They’re coming off a loss to the very tough Dallas Cowboys, and they’re looking at an upcoming schedule that includes the 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rams and then the 49ers again.
They’re all winnable games for a team on the fringe, and that’s where the Cardinals are. It wouldn’t be shocking if they lost to the 49ers or the Eagles or the Rams, but it wouldn’t be shocking if they won, either. If the 49ers went on to win the next few games, it would be shocking.
Arizona isn’t in that position. They are not a complete team and they are not on the cusp of a championship. But they’re competing for the playoffs after a bad 1-2 start, and the 49ers are an opportunity to right a sinking ship. For the 49ers, the Cardinals simply remain another test in their quest to improve.