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Sunday, January 2, 2011
Wrap-up: 49ers 38, Cardinals 7

By Mike Sando

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 38-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park in Week 17:

What it means: The Cardinals (5-11) emerged from this game with the fifth overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft after Denver lost to San Diego, ensuring the Broncos would pick ahead of Arizona. The 49ers (6-10) could wind up tied with Seattle for the seventh choice if the Seahawks also finish with a 6-10 record. A coin toss held at the scouting combine would break any tie for draft positioning. The Cardinals' poor showing on offense should prevent anyone from thinking rookie quarterback John Skelton should go into next season as a candidate to start.

Update on strength of schedule: The New York Giants' victory Sunday would leave Seattle with the tougher strength of schedule relative to San Francisco, should the Seahawks and 49ers tie in draft order. The 49ers played Philadelphia (10-6) and Green Bay (10-6) while the Seahawks played Chicago (11-5) and the Giants (10-6). All other opponents were the same.

What I liked: The 49ers' best players on offense made big plays. Vernon Davis got loose for a 59-yard touchdown reception. Ted Ginn Jr. caught a 37-yard scoring pass, providing what the 49ers expected to see throughout the season, but did not. Receiver Josh Morgan extended to make a grab for a 32-yard reception. Quarterback Alex Smith averaged 11.7 yards per attempt and Brian Westbrook scored twice as the 49ers built a 31-7 lead. On defense, the 49ers dominated even without injured inside linebacker Patrick Willis. Justin Smith, always a tough matchup for the Cardinals, padded his Pro Bowl credentials with three sacks. For Arizona, there wasn't much, but at least receiver Larry Fitzgerald factored more prominently into the offense.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals got blown out twice by a 49ers team that was bad enough to cost Mike Singletary his job as head coach. John Skelton passed for 92 yards on 25 attempts, taking four sacks to go with his 3.7-yard average per attempt. Richard Bartel came into the game and served up an interception for a touchdown.

Tomorrow's Talker: Which quarterbacks will be leading these teams next season? The 49ers will have a better idea once they hire a head coach. The Cardinals' leadership has had months to consider its options after failing to adequately prepare for life after Kurt Warner.

What's next: Both teams will be watching the playoffs from afar.