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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey

The Huddle
~ 2007 ~
Season Ticket

Sunday night

Prediction: ARZ 20, SF 23

These divisional rivals opened 2006 when they met in Arizona. The Cardinals opened their new stadium with a 34-27 win over the 49ers and later swept them with a 26-20 victory in San Francisco during week 16. The Cardinals have an all new coaching staff with the same players and we get to see what the Steelers might look like with hot weather and low humidity. The 49ers return all the notable players of last season but OC Norv Turner has been demoted again to head coach in San Diego. Both teams are getting better but remain competitive with each other.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Homefield: University of Phoenix Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @SF   +3.5 45
2 SEA 16-Sep SUN 4:05 PM
3 @BAL 23-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
4 PIT 30-Sep SUN 4:15 PM
5 @STL 7-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
6 CAR 14-Oct SUN 4:05 PM
7 @WAS 21-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
8 BYE - - -
9 @TB 4-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
10 DET 11-Nov SUN 4:15 PM
11 @CIN 18-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
12 SF 25-Nov SUN 4:05 PM
13 CLE 2-Dec SUN 4:05 PM
14 @SEA 9-Dec SUN 4:05 PM
15 @NO 16-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
16 ATL 23-Dec SUN 4:05 PM
17 STL 30-Dec SUN 4:15 PM
ARZ at SF Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Leinart 10   240,1
RB Edgerrin James 100,1 10  
TE Leonard Pope   30  
WR Anquan Boldin   50  
WR Larry Fitzgerald   90,1  
WR Bryant Johnson   40  
PK Neil Rackers 2 XP 2 FG  
Pregame Notes: The Cardinals dumped Denny Green in the offseason and brought in Ken Whisenhunt from the Steelers to lead the show. Perhaps as important as any personnel move, he dragged O-line guru Russ Grimm along which gives all new promise to the rushing game. Arizona has never seemed to rise to their potential but this new crew looks like they'll get their best shot at rising from the perpetual cellar of the NFC West.

Quarterback: It only took four weeks for the Cardinals to realize it was time for Matt Leinart to play. He had a decent enough first year with 2542 yards and 11 touchdowns over 11 games played and he even ran in two scores himself. He still has yet to throw for more than two scores in any game and that may be delayed even further if the rushing game comes to life as planned. But for a first year, Leinart clearly showed promise and even managed one 405 yard game during a loss in Minnesota. The new offensive scheme should be the biggest factor from allowing him to become a top fantasy quarterback.

Warner started the first game of 2006 when he threw for 301 yards and three scores against the 49ers but later Leinart only had 162 yards and one touchdown in San Francisco.

Running Backs: Edgerrin James was the pricey addition to the Cardinals last year and while he lagged his Indianapolis years, his 1159 rushing yards and six scores did add a new facet to the offense. James was coming along nicely towards the end of the season when he topped 100 rushing yards three times in the final five games and scored three times over that time. Now with a revamped line directed by Russ Grimm, the 29 year-old back still has time for a couple of productive seasons in his career. The Cardinals also have liked what Marcel Shipp has done in camp and preseason games and he may end up figuring in more than expected but he will not be in the projections until more is shown.

James gained 73 yards and s score in the first meeting with the 49ers and then totaled 105 yards on 29 carries on the road.

Wide Receivers: The new offense will be most interesting for Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald who so far have enjoyed careers being the only two receivers that matter on their team. In some games last year, the duo might share 80% or more of all completions and in a Denny Green offense, there were plenty of passes. Both players topped 100 catches in 2005 but fell back last year in part because Fitzgerald missed three games. They still shared 151 catches for 2144 yards last year with 10 scores between them. The previous year had them turning in 205 catches for 2807 yards and 17 touchdowns. The new offense directed by Todd Haley won't be throwing like mad anymore, but both players should offer solid - though lesser - numbers than before.

There have been overtures by the coaching staff that slot man Bryant Johnson will get more involved but that would only serve to lower the production for Boldin and Fitzgerald. It was a great ride for the duo under Green but now they should see fewer passes.

Boldin only had four catches in both meetings with the 49ers last year and gained 62 and 64 yards with no scores in either game. Fitzgerald started out with 133 yards on nine catches and later turned in 94 yards and one score in San Francisco.

Tight Ends: No Arizona tight end has really mattered in fantasy terms and while that could be true yet again, there is some expectation that Leonard Pope will become a bigger part of the offense than last year when the rookie only had 16 catches for 161 yards and the Cards only completed 34 passes between four different tight ends.

Match Against the Defense: The 49ers defense improved with the drafting of LB Patrick Willis and adding CB Nate Clements but that alone won't prop up what was one of the worst defenses at preventing fantasy points in 2006. Expect James to turn in a solid game here in a revamped offensive scheme that will be new for the 49ers to face. James should end up near 100 rushing yards as he did last year in San Francisco but this time he'll score at least once. Leinart goes against a secondary that routinely gave up big yardage to good quarterbacks but Clements covers Boldin and that should scare Leinart enough to use Fitzgerald more. I also really like the chance that Pope gets a decent start here against a defense that was the worst against tight ends last year. A new rookie ILB is just begging to be burned once.

Gaining Fantasy Points ARZ 14 27 3 32 8 7
Preventing Fantasy Points SF 21 30 18 32 32 22


San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
Homefield: Monster Park
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 ARI   -3.5 45
2 @STL 16-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
3 @PIT 23-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
4 SEA 30-Sep SUN 4:05 PM
5 BAL 7-Oct SUN 4:15 PM
6 BYE - - -
7 @NYG 21-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
8 NO 28-Oct SUN 4:15 PM
9 @ATL 4-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
10 @SEA 12-Nov MON 8:30 PM
11 STL 18-Nov SUN 4:15 PM
12 @ARI 25-Nov SUN 4:05 PM
13 @CAR 2-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
14 MIN 9-Dec SUN 4:05 PM
15 CIN 15-Dec SAT 8:15 PM
16 TB 23-Dec SUN 8:15 PM
17 @CLE 30-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
SF vs ARZ Rush Catch Pass
QB Alex Smith 10   200,1
RB Frank Gore 120,1 20  
TE Vernon Davis   70,1  
WR Darrell Jackson   50  
WR Arnaz Battle   40  
WR Taylor Jacobs   20  
PK Joe Nedney 3 FG 2 XP  

Pregame Notes: The 49ers are ready to take their final step up out of mediocrity after a 7-9 finish last year that witnessed a great rushing attack, an improved passing game and a defense that still lacked. A few additions in the off-season to bolster both sides of the ball and the 49ers are finally equipped to make that climb back to respectability. Standing in the way is an opening schedule that should prove daunting. OC Norv Turner is gone but the offense isn't changing much at all. After baby steps the last couple of years, the 49ers are looking to take a big step forward in 2007.

Quarterback: After a terrible rookie campaign, Alex Smith took to the tutelage of Norv Turner last year and turned in 2901 yards and 16 scores against just 15 touchdowns - a very significant progress from 2005. Smith managed to throw a score in all but four games last year but nine of the 12 games with a score only had one touchdown. That's not enough to rank as anything more than a fantasy back-up but Smith is one year more experienced now and will have Darrell Jackson and Vernon Davis which should prove far better to what he used in most games last year. In particular, Smith and Davis have been developing nice chemistry in the offseason and the broken leg that robbed Davis of most his rookie season is no longer an issue.

Smith threw for 288 yards and one score in Arizona last year but only had 190 yards and no touchdowns in week 16 at home.

Running Backs: Nothing like a Norv Turner offense to give a nice spike to a running backs productivity. Frank Gore came into 2007 with mixed expectations and left as the #3 runner in the NFL (1695 rushing yards). Gore was one of the biggest sleepers last year and ran for a 5.4 yard average despite facing constant eight-man fronts. Sort of makes you wonder why they held on to Kevan Barlow so long. Gore returns this year with his sights set on an even bigger season and if the passing game can reduce the attention he gets, there's no reason not to expect more.

Gore suffered a broken bone in his hand this summer but is expected to play without limitation in this game.

Gore rushed for 87 yards and two scores in Arizona last year and later ran for 111 yards on just 12 carries at home against the Cardinals.

Wide Receivers: The 49ers dumped the troubled wideout Antonio Bryant in the spring and since Bryant never was picked up by another team, it is rather evident how good a move that was. Darrell Jackson was acquired in a trade with divisional rival Seattle and immediately upgrades the receivers. Bryant was the best last year in San Francisco with only 40 catches for 733 yards and three scores. Jackson can do far better - if he remains healthy. Jackson already has suffered a pulled hamstring a week ago and was recovering from turf toe from last year. He also has a knee condition that pops up from time to time. There is a reason why the Seahawks allowed him to go to a rival team.

Arnaz Battle will remain the #2 here but last year that only accounted for 686 yards and three scores in a season when the 49ers needed someone - anyone - to step up in the passing game. Taylor Jacobs has been named the slot receiver after an impressive training camp but the rookie Jason Hill will also figure in during the season. This unit is upgraded from 2006, but then again, that was not all that hard to do. Much depends on Jackson getting and staying healthy. I am projecting for Jackson to play but that could change depending on his hamstring injury.

Battle never had more than 55 yards in either meeting against the Cards in 2006.

Tight Ends: Is this the year? Vernon Davis was the high first round pick last season as the tight end with freakish physical abilities but unfortunately that did not include bones that do not break. Davis lost most of his rookie season due to a broken leg but in the final month of the 2006 season, he recorded games with 74 and 91 yards as a teaser of what he could do. Davis has been hard at work this year getting used to just playing instead of thinking and he has been linking up with Smith very well on passes. Davis is the most promising tight end that could become a superstar - but Smith has to make that happen.

Eric Johnson gained 91 yards on just four catches in week 16 against the visiting Cardinals last year. It was his biggest game of the year.

Match Against the Defense: No doubt this game will feature a heavy dose of Gore running the ball and against the Cards there's no reason why he shouldn't top 100 yards and score at least once. Smith had a down game the last time the 49ers hosted the Cards and with new receivers and a different OC, expect the passing game to start slower and build as the season progresses. Have to like Davis in this game since he has already hurt the Cards last year and he already has the confidence of Smith unlike Jackson who has to get in more reps with his new quarterback. I like the 49ers slightly in this game but it could go either way as first games of the year usually do.

Gaining Fantasy Points SF 29 8 29 16 9 22
Preventing Fantasy Points ARZ 24 24 28 16 30 26

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