The San Francisco 49ers continued their second-half success with a 28-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13, extending their winning streak to five games ahead of a Week 15 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals on the road.
It’s the second of two matchups between the two sides, as the 49ers beat the Cardinals 35-16 at Levi’s Stadium in Week 4, which was a part of their hot 5-0 start to the year.
The 49ers come into the matchup with some health concerns. Defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave are ruled out, as are running back Elijah Mitchell, tight end Ross Dwelley, and linebacker Oren Burks.
As a result, Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens are expected to start at defensive tackle, while the 49ers called up running back Jeremy McNichols from the practice squad to back up Christian McCaffrey and Jordan Mason
Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as 12-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 48 points.
Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Sunday.
The Arizona Cardinals have struggled heavily in a rebuilding year, currently possessing a 3-10 record, which is among the worst in the NFL.
However, they are coming off a 24-10 victory in Week 13 over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and come into Week 15 with an extra week of rest, due to their bye week.
The Cardinals enter Week 15 with a few injury concerns, as six players are listed as questionable heading into the weekend: wideouts Marquise Brown and Michael Wilson, tight end Geoff Swaim, linebacker Krys Barnes, punter Blake Gillikin, and offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson.
Arizona has experienced struggles on the offensive side this season, scoring just 17.7 points a game, good for 27th in the NFL, while averaging 296.3 total yards a game, good for 26th in the NFL.
However, they recently returned quarterback Kyler Murray and James Conner from injury, and have remained competitive in three of the four games that the former has played in this season.
Defensively, Arizona isn’t great either, giving up 355.3 yards a contest, good for 23rd in the NFL, and 25.5 points per game, a bottom-three mark in the league.
The 49ers last saw Arizona in Week 4, where they walloped past in a 35-16 blowout, but now will face Kyler Murray rather than Josh Dobbs at quarterback.
Murray has missed the last four contests against the 49ers. When he last faced San Francisco, the Cardinals beat the 49ers 17-10 at home in Week 5 of 2021.
Will the Cardinals find a way to remain competitive in Week 15 or will the 49ers continue their recent stretch of success against a division rival?
Keys to the Game
Turnovers: In potential upset games, one of the biggest issues is always turnovers.
Funny enough, Arizona has been strong in the turnover department this season offensively, and their efforts have ramped up over the past three games.
The 49ers and Cardinals both rank top 10 in giveaways this season, with San Francisco averaging 0.9 a game, while the Cardinals average 1.2 a contest.
Isolating just the last three games, both teams remain in the top 10, but Arizona has been especially good, giving up just two turnovers total during the stretch, meaning they’ve been fairly sound in the giveaways department with Kyler Murray in the fold.
On the flip side, the 49ers have been one of the best teams at forcing turnovers, recording 1.8 a game, a top-three mark in the NFL.
While the Cardinals are in the bottom half of the league in that category, they’ve amped up their efforts over the last three games, forcing five turnovers.
When the 49ers play sound football, they’ve been dominant, and the spread reflects that. However, that needs to continue on Sunday, and that means not losing the turnover battle.
James Conner: It’s clear that there’s a talent disparity between the two teams, but Cardinals showcased they could make an upset as they did in Week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now, the 49ers are much better than the Steelers, but the Cardinals’ will likely try to employ a similar tactic in Week 15: running the ball at a high volume with James Conner.
Against the Steelers, Conner finished with 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, averaging slightly over four yards a run.
While the Cardinals finished the game with just 3.8 yards per carry, Arizona ran the ball 38 times, allowing them to control the pace, as they converted 10 third downs.
It may not be pretty, but the Cardinals will likely focus on running the ball, with Conner and quarterback Kyler Murray both serving as viable threats.
The 49ers have been pretty good against mobile quarterbacks this season, but Murray may be their toughest opponent on the ground to date.
Moreover, the 49ers will be without both of their top defensive tackles, as Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave have been ruled out, meaning they’ll be relying on their backups to stop the run.
If Arizona has any chance of moving the ball, it’ll likely come via the ground game, and that’ll be a matchup to watch on Sunday.
Red zone: After struggling to convert touchdowns in the red zone for a few weeks, the 49ers have been elite over the past three games, as they’ve scored seven points on nine of their 10 opportunities inside their opponent’s 20-yard line.
They’ll now face off against an Arizona offense that also ranks in the top five in red zone scoring at 63.3 percent, and has been perfect inside the 20-yard line over the last three games.
This’ll be an intriguing battle in the red zone because the 49ers are a top-ten team in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on only 50 percent of opponent drives.
Over the past three games, they’ve skyrocketed to the top three, allowing just 33.3 percent of opponent red zone drives to convert into touchdowns.
While the Cardinals aren’t a great red zone defensive team this season, they’ve managed to be in the top ten over the past three weeks, allowing just 50 percent of opponent drives inside the 20-yard line to get into the endzone.
With a wide gap in the spread, one area that could dictate how this game ultimately goes is the redzone, as something’s got to give on both sides.