The San Francisco 49ers opened this week as a field goal favorite over the Arizona Cardinals, but the line quickly climbed. It got as high as 5.5 points at some sportsbooks, but eventually settled at four or 4.5 points, depending on your sportsbook of choice. Early money was on the 49ers, but we are seeing some changes with money coming in on Arizona.
OddsShark tracks line movement across a host of sportsbooks, and the 49ers-Cardinals line has seen some shifting on Thursday and Friday. You are now able to find some 3.5-point spreads, although some of them have moved back up to four points. OddsShark tracks money bet, and as of this being published, 54 percent of money is on the Cardinals.
This is a tough game to figure out for the purposes of gambling. The 49ers would seem to be the better team, but there are two issues with this game. The first is this is a divisional game. Sometimes the worse divisional opponent will get thumped, and other times it will end up a crazy game that goes down to the wire. For Arizona, last week’s 20-17 loss to the Seahawks was an example of the latter, while their 34-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was a an example of the former.
The other issue is the quarterback situation — and I’m not talking about C.J. Beathard. Josh Rosen got his first career start last week, and did well enough to give the Cardinals a shot at beating Seattle. He is an upgrade over Sam Bradford, and that gives a previously awful Cardinals offense a shot in the arm. But is it enough to spring the road upset?
Football Outsiders found Aaron Schatz puts together a weekly column for ESPN’s Chalk section where he offers a potential outright upset and a potential underdog cover. This week, he included the Cardinals as his potential outright upset.
Schatz sees a downgraded but still solid Cardinals defense as a big key.
Arizona had ranked in the top four for defensive DVOA the past three seasons, and it has declined amid the changes. But it hasn’t declined that much. The Cardinals still rank 11th in defensive DVOA this season, both overall and against the pass. The pass rush is particularly strong, led as always by defensive end Chandler Jones and bolstered by the improving health of Markus Golden (who missed the first two weeks). The Cardinals rank sixth in pressure rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information (34.5 percent), which is a problem for a 49ers offensive line that ranks 25th in pressure rate allowed (32.9 percent).
On the offensive side of the ball, Schatz emphasized the Cardinals needed to focus on the pass given their run game struggles and the 49ers success defending the run. He said David Johnson should be active as the 49ers give up a lot of short passes in the run game, and Rosen needs to focus on the left when passing.
So far this season, San Francisco is average against passes to the middle and right side of the field, but it is dead last against passes to the offensive left, where cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has had some difficulties this season.
The 49ers are working on a rotation at the cornerback position, so that offensive left side will be something to watch in Week 5.
I’m still inclined to think this is a game the 49ers can get the cover, but I can see why there is some hesitancy. Arizona is a better team now than what we saw the first couple weeks. The 49ers are better, but this presents a challenge. Beathard looked solid last week, but it was against an awful Los Angeles Chargers defense. They rank ninth against the run, but 23rd against the pass, according to Football Outsiders. Arizona ranks 11th against the pass and will bring a bigger challenge as we look to see if Beathard has in fact taken a significant step forward in his second season.