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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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The Huddle
~ 2008 ~
Season Ticket
Sunday Late

Prediction: ARZ 24, SF 20

This is traditionally one of the most fun match-ups of the year for either team. Three of the last four meetings resulted in more than 45 total points being scored and last November the meeting went to the 49ers 37-31. The 49ers also won the season opener 17-20 against the Cards. Remarkably the 49ers swept the Cardinals in 2007 and yet won only three other games all year. The two previous seasons saw the Cardinals winning every game. Yet again, the 49ers are installing their new offense for the year and the Cardinals come into this with veterans running the same system.

The is the same venue of the season opener last year.

Arizona Cardinals (0-0)
Homefield: University of Phoenix Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @SF - -2.5 41.5
2 MIA - - -
3 @WAS - - -
4 @NYJ - - -
5 BUF - - -
6 DAL - - -
7 BYE - - -
8 @CAR - - -
9 @STL - - -
10 SF - - -
11 @SEA - - -
12 NYG - - -
13 @PHI - - -
14 STL - - -
15 MIN - - -
16 @NE - - -
17 SEA - - -
ARI at SF Rush Catch Pass
QB Kurt Warner     270,3
RB Edgerrin James 80 10  
TE Leonard Pope   30  
WR Anquan Boldin   80,1  
WR Larry Fitzgerald   90,2  
WR Steve Breaston   50  
PK Neil Rackers 3 XP 1 FG  
Pregame Notes: The Cardinals come off a 8-8 season and there are at least a few people that think they are poised to make some noise in the AFC West. The Cardinals enter their second season under HC Ken Whisenhunt and OC Todd Haley so 2007 offers the rare "same system, same players" that has to be a benefit. The schedule will be tougher this season with match-ups against the NFC East and AFC East but there's always two games against the 49ers and Rams. Whisenhunt was successful in changing the team into a better defense and a more productive offense.

Quarterback: Much to the delight of crafty (or optimistic) drafters, the Cardinals decided that they liked what Kurt Warner did with the offense last year. After Matt Leinart stumbled badly and then was lost for the year, Warner took over and finished the season with a vengeance. By the time he was done, the Cardinals ranked 5th in passing yards (4228) and 4th in passing scores (32). While they gave Leinart every opportunity to win his job back this summer, Whisenhunt has determined that he prefers productive passing and winning games. Warner is the starter at least for now and a strong showing should keep Leinart on the bench.

The opener in San Francisco last year had Leinart only passing for 102 yards and two interceptions which no doubt led to Warner's start this year. When Warner faced the 49ers in 2007, he passed for 484 yards and two touchdowns. See - being a head coach isn't really all that hard.

Running Backs: One area that the Cardinals were not successful with last year was the rushing game where they finished with only eight rushing scores and a paltry 1344 rushing yards to rank only 29th. But they didn't do anything to challenge Edgerrin James other than bringing in fifth round Tim Hightower. He has looked impressive in camp though and is expected to be used as more than mere relief for James. For week one I won't project for him, but James owners should keep wary since he doesn't have much to share.

James ran for 92 yards and one score in San Francisco last season and later had 78 yards in Arizona against the 49ers.

Wide Receivers: Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin return even though Boldin's not a happy camper since the Cardinals reneged on their pledge to extend his contract. The dynamic duo has combined to maintain top three yardage marks for NFL wideout tandems for the last three years and ranked 3rd as a unit with 23 touchdown catches last year. Bryant Johnson left and while Early Doucet was drafted as a replacement, he was unable to beat out Steve Breaston for the job so far. Doucet is worth tracking if only to see what happens next year if Boldin leaves. Until then, this will remain a two man show for wideouts.

With Warner as the starter, Boldin (6-76) and even Bryant Johnson (5-80) had decent games against the 49ers but Fitzgerald racked up nine catches for 156 yards and two scores.

Tight Ends: The new offensive scheme last year made far more use of the tight ends than ever before in Arizona. Granted, the yardage for the position (357 yards) was only 30th best in the league but eight touchdown just about equals the previous four years combined. Leonard Pope is used as an endzone target but little else.

Pope never had more than 39 yards against the 49ers last year.

Match Against the Defense: The 49ers get the right coaches and add in players and very little changes from the defense that always ranks near the bottom in recent years. Playing in San Francisco will favor the 49ers slightly but the defense cannot stop the Cardinals passing attack and there is no reason to expect anything different at this point. Look for solid games - as always - from Warner and the wideouts and just an average game from James. The only interesting aspect there is to see if Hightower actually does do more than a couple of carries.

Look for the first week of installing a Mike Martz offense using substandard players to not go well. Starting your Cardinals including the defense is an excellent way to start your fantasy season.

Gaining Fantasy Points ARI 4 28 3 20 17 9
Preventing Fantasy Points SF 18 19 21 24 27 32
Rank Advantage (-31 to 31) ARI 14 -9 18 4 10 23

San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
Homefield: Monster Park
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 ARZ - +2.5 41.5
2 @SEA - - -
3 DET - - -
4 @NO - - -
5 NE - - -
6 PHI - - -
7 @NYG - - -
8 SEA - - -
9 BYE - - -
10 @ARZ - - -
11 STL - - -
12 @DAL - - -
13 @BUF - - -
14 NYJ - - -
15 @MIA - - -
16 @STL - - -
17 WAS - - -
SF vs ARI Rush Catch Pass
QB J. T. O'Sullivan 10   220,1
RB Frank Gore 80,1 50  
TE Vernon Davis   40  
WR Isaac Bruce   60  
WR Bryant Johnson   40  
WR Josh Morgan   20  
PK Joe Nedney 2 FG 2 XP  

Pregame Notes: One of the most surprising coaching moves during the offseason was when the 49ers hired Mike Martz to run the offense. This will be interesting since Martz has the most pass-heavy scheme in the league and one that is complex and demands near perfection in timing. Unfortunately, he is installing it with an offense that ranked no better than 29th in passing yards in the last three seasons - last year it was dead last. The wide receivers have been revamped, sort of, and the Alex Smith era may be over now that J. T. O'Sullivan has been named starter. If nothing else, this should be fascinating.

Quarterback: The 49ers went into the offseason with a three way battle for starting quarterback - Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and J. T. O'Sullivan. That group will hardly rekindle thoughts of Joe Montana and Steve Young. O'Sullivan has been named starter despite spending six years in the league with only 13 completed passes during a regular season. Martz brought O'Sullivan with him from Detroit and now he will be the starter but he'll soon enough come to embrace the two characteristics of a Martz-quarterback - plenty of sacks and interceptions. And eventual injury usually.

Running Backs: Frank Gore comes off a frustrating 2007 season when he suffered from a high ankle sprain for much of the year. He only managed to gain 1102 rushing yards and the team ranked just 28th in the league for yardage by running backs. But Gore and company were top ten just a year previous and he comes into 2008 with a chip on his shoulder. He also comes in to reprise the "Marshal Faulk" role in the Martz offense which should mean plenty of receptions. Spreading the field with multiple receivers also should help Gore from facing as many eight man fronts at least until defenses figure out the 49ers still cannot throw and everyone just has to stop Gore.

Gore opened 2007 by rushing for 55 yards on 18 carries with one score against the Cards. He later ran for 116 yards and two scores in Arizona.

Wide Receivers: The 49ers attempted to rebuild their receiver corps by adding the aging Isaac Bruce, Cardinals cast-off Bryant Johnson and drafting the surprising Josh Morgan. Ashley Lelie has been released and Arnaz Battle has returned to being merely depth as he should have always been. Darrell Jackson was dumped and while the unit doesn't look that impressive, at least it looks all new and that cannot hardly be a bad thing given recent history. Bruce already knows the offense and will help install the scheme. Johnson should become the #2 but has missed time this summer with a hamstring. It doesn't really matter that much in a Martz-offense since at least three if not four wideouts will figure in. Josh Morgan has been a delightful surprise this summer but when he catches a pass on Sunday (assuming he does) it will be his first regular season reception. The problem here is that the scheme usually prevents wideouts from posting huge numbers because of the spreading of the passes. Given the lackluster results of recent seasons, the bar is pretty low here for making an improvement.

Tight Ends: If there is one area of intrigue, it is at tight end. Vernon Davis has been a disappointment in his first two season - if not an outright bust - after being one of the initial first round picks back in 2006. He had a career high 52 catches for 509 yards and four touchdowns. But now he is in a Martz offense. The one that only ranked 29th or worse in Detroit and that has never used the position even back in St. Louis. Davis is supposed to be a weapon (relatively unfired as he is) and Martz claims to have special plays for Davis who could be split out. But Davis has been knocked for work ethic, durability and ability to learn a playbook and now has the most complex, un-tight-end-friendly offense in the league.

Match Against the Defense: The 49ers swept the Cards last year as astounding as that may seem. But the Cardinals are in the second year of an improving defense while the 49ers are once again installing yet another offense. And this time a pass heavy scheme that will take some time to come together. Expect a closer game because of the home venue but outside of Frank Gore, the entire offense is still pretty undefined and that makes it all the harder to match against a defense that is at least average. For week one, Gore is you only safe start for the 49ers.

Gaining Fantasy Points SF 31 27 32 14 32 31
Preventing Fantasy Points ARI 27 17 31 1 24 22
Rank Advantage (-31 to 31) SF -4 -10 -1 -13 -8 -9
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