NFL Nation: Cardinals-49ers 121409
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers
All the pregame hype will center around the so-called Inaccurate Reception, the controversial Hail Mary catch by Golden Tate two years ago that won the game over the Packers at Seattle on a Monday night. Tate has moved on to Detroit, but the Seahawks now have too many weapons for the Packers to stop, no Hail Mary required. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at San Diego Chargers
The Chargers better hope they play a lot better than they did in the preseason game at Seattle, a 41-14 victory for the Seahawks on Aug. 15. San Diego will play better, but not good enough to beat a much better team. Prediction: Win
Week 3: Denver Broncos
The Broncos and their fans got a tiny bit of meaningless Super Bowl revenge in the preseason opener with a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks in Denver. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys. Repeating that outcome in Seattle is not an option. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Washington Redskins
Traveling coast to coast to play on the road for a Monday night game is a tough task against any NFL opponent, and even tougher against quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Seahawks catch a break in this one by coming off a bye week with plenty of time to prepare and be fresh for the journey. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Seattle a little bulletin-board material last month when he said the Seahawks were to blame for the increase in penalty flags during the preseason. There won't be near enough flags against Seattle for the Cowboys to win this one. Prediction: Win
Week 7: at St. Louis Rams
Any division game in the NFC West is a rugged battle. The Rams have a defensive line that gave the Seahawks problems a year ago. But they aren't strong enough overall to beat Seattle, even at home in their out-of-date dome. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were fortunate to win the season opener at Charlotte a year ago. That Panthers team was better than this one, but back-to-back road games against very physical defensive teams will end the Seattle winning streak. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Oakland Raiders
Coming off their first loss of the season and returning home against an outmanned opponent, is there any doubt? Prediction: Win
Week 10: New York Giants
The Seahawks easily defeated the Giants 23-0 last year in New Jersey, a dress rehearsal for their Super Bowl victory at the same location -- MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks won't need a rehearsal to roll past the Giants in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Kansas City Chiefs
This likely will be a low-scoring game between two strong defensive teams. Odds are against any team that has to try to win by matching its defense against the Seahawks' D. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals
The last time the Cardinals played at CenturyLink Field was last December when they handed the Seahawks a 17-10 loss. That won't happen again unless the Seahawks get caught looking ahead to the 49ers game. The Seahawks don't look ahead. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers
It's a Thanksgiving night, national TV game in the 49ers' shiny new stadium against the hated Seahawks. If San Francisco can't win this one, its time as a championship contender is over. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles
This is the toughest part of the season for the Seahawks with back-to-back road games against likely playoff contenders. But the 10 days between games will help and be enough of a cushion to keep Seattle from losing two in a row. Prediction: Win
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers
This is a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. No way the Seahawks lose to the 49ers twice in three weeks, especially not in front of a rabid full house of 12s. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals probably will be fighting for a playoff spot, and the Seahawks already will be in at 12-2. That difference will be just enough for Arizona to win at home in the same stadium where the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: St. Louis Rams
For the second consecutive year, the Rams close the regular season in Seattle. And for the second consecutive year, the Seahawks will beat them without much trouble. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 13-3
SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers might have felt worse than the Arizona Cardinals after completing a season sweep of their NFC West rival.
Their 24-9 victory at Candlestick Park made their already excruciating defeat at Seattle a week earlier even more meaningful.
Had the 49ers won both games, they would be only a game back with three games to play. They would be relevant. The Cardinals, now 8-5 and two games ahead of the 49ers, would have to worry about them.
Instead, Arizona shrugged off its seven-turnover performance as a tough Monday night at the office. The Cardinals can win the division by beating Detroit and St. Louis over the next two weeks. They know they've got eight victories already and the 49ers, with a road trip to Philadelphia looming, can claim no more than nine.
"It's disappointing that in this venue on Monday night, we didn't play well," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "The division was never really that big a deal for us. If we take care of our business from here out, we will win the division. That is what is important."
The game could have been devastating for the Cardinals if Larry Fitzgerald's knee injury had been serious. Whisenhunt feared the worst when Fitzgerald left for the locker room. But the Pro Bowl wideout apparently suffered no serious damage. He returned to the game and was on the field in the final minutes, an unnecessary risk that worked out for Whisenhunt.
The 49ers see themselves as tougher and more physical than their Arizona rivals. Recent evidence provides ample validation.
"That is one of the teams I do respect," Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "They play hard, they play physical and they stick to what they do."
San Francisco's defensive front seven -- Justin Smith, Parys Haralson and the emerging Ahmad Brooks in particular -- seems to have its way against the Cardinals' offensive line. Arizona's penchant for spreading the field and leaving offensive tackles without help in protection has played into the 49ers' sledgehammer mentality.
The 49ers know how to play the Cardinals better than other teams with similar or even greater talent play Arizona.
"It feels amazing," 49ers guard David Baas said. "Our backs were against the wall and we wanted to come out and show everybody what the 49ers were about, regardless of record and that stuff. We beat Arizona twice and I truly think that we are the best team in the NFC West."
The 49ers are certainly the best team in the NFC West against Arizona. But they also found themselves leading by a single score in the fourth quarter even after forcing five turnovers. They scored 17 of their points on drives that began at the Arizona 28-yard line or closer.
San Francisco, pass-happy in recent weeks, finally revisited its base offense with Frank Gore and sometimes fullback Moran Norris. Gore carried 25 times for 167 yards and a touchdown behind an offensive line that has quietly shown improvement in recent weeks. It was enough to mask quarterback Alex Smith's inconsistent play -- two touchdowns, two interceptions, a meager 4.1 yards per attempt -- thanks largely to the seven turnovers San Francisco forced.
"I'm very excited about our team," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said.
Brooks' three-sack performance stood out. He and free safety Dashon Goldson each forced two fumbles. It's tough to fully evaluate an offensive line's performance, but center Eric Heitmann seemed to control the middle well for the 49ers, clearing lanes for Gore.
This was a step forward for the 49ers, and a temporary step back for Arizona.
"We got a piece of humble pie today," Dockett said. "I can't say we didn't fight, but they outplayed us. Sometimes you need those types of games to get you right where you need to be."
There's no question the 49ers' physical style forced quite a few of the turnovers. There's also no question the Cardinals will protect the football better than this most of the time. They tend to respond well following disappointing performances.
They ran the ball surprisingly well when they weren't putting it on the ground. Beanie Wells carried 15 times for 79 yards and a touchdown after 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis declared the Cardinals' ground game dead on arrival.
Wells' physical, hard-nosed running will probably carry over into future games more than the turnovers, which tend to come and go. Wells looks like a potential star and his running will open up big plays in the passing game when Arizona needs them in the playoffs.
"We've got to find a way to answer what [the 49ers] do to us because they have had some success against us recently," Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. "You tip your hat to them tonight. But like I said, we've got things ahead of us that we've got to go and accomplish now. We have to put this one behind us.
The 49ers' mostly average pass-rushers become dominant ones when they face Arizona. This probably cannot be explained rationally. It's just NFC West law.
The 49ers can beat the Cardinals -- twice this season -- but they have not yet shown they can defeat enough of the other teams to make it matter in the standings.
What should matter most to the 49ers this December, barring a miracle playoff run that might require Arizona losses to the Rams and Lions, is developing quarterback Alex Smith for next season.
Smith started quickly Monday night, but he made erratic throws and turned over the ball twice. By game's end, the 49ers appeared much better off handing the ball to Gore and watching him pound away.
This development might have been specific to this game against this opponent.
But the sloppy and exceedingly generous Cardinals provided Smith an excellent opportunity to demonstrate his compatibility with Gore. The two haven't produced at a high level in the same game this season. Gore did his part, but Smith could not capitalize consistently.
The Cardinals likely will not suffer this many turnovers (7) again anytime soon. They must feel fortunate that Larry Fitzgerald's injury was not serious, and that they will not be seeing the 49ers again anytime soon.
Arizona also has plenty of time to win this game if the team can score a touchdown on this drive.
I suspect this means the team doesn't know the full extent of the injury. Tests will tell the team more, presumably.
Fitzgerald left the field for the locker room.
The Cardinals have lost Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, at least temporarily, to a leg injury that was unpleasant to look at (team trainers appear to be testing his knee on the sideline).
Wells ran for gains of 5, 12, 9, 11 and 7 yards during the Cardinals' drive to open the second half. Tim Hightower lost a fumble earlier.
Arizona has wanted to become more of a running team. The team might be wise to move in that direction if Fitzgerald is out for any period of time.
Fitzgerald is limping toward the locker room.
I think they might win 10 of them, or perhaps more.
The Cardinals get the ball to start the second half, trailing 17-0. Think they'll turn it over?
They could always direct snap to Beanie Wells, except he's muffed a few pitchouts this season, so it's tough for Arizona to have confidence in him.
How about getting the ball to Larry Fitzgerald every so often? Perhaps Antrel Rolle can throw to him.
What was referee Jerome Boger thinking when he determined Larry Fitzgerald did not catch that pass near the 49ers' goal line? Sure looked like a 45-yard reception or a 46-yard touchdown, although I could not see every aspect of the play. It's nice when referees explain things. Boger is having a rough night so far.
Have the 49ers discovered how to work Frank Gore into their new-look offense? It's looking that way. Gore has run effective from base personnel. The 49ers have gone away from their base personnel in recent weeks. It's back with in a big way so far in this game.
Looks like it's time to put the ball in Kurt Warner's hands after Tim Hightower lost that fumble to set up a 49ers touchdown. Warner has 12 touchdown passes without an interception in his last four games.
Ware's absence hurt the Cardinals previously this season, including against the 49ers in Week 1.
With Ware out of the game, strong safety Adrian Wilson failed to adjust properly, and allowed Frank Gore to escape uncovered for a touchdown reception.
The play he just made against the 49ers -- batting Alex Smith's pass at the line, then picking it off -- isn't an easy play for a defensive lineman.
Dockett has seven sacks this season. He has already hit Smith once in this game, knocking down the quarterback.
Smith has done a good job drawing opponents across the line this season.
Final Atlanta 24 Jacksonville 14 Final Detroit 23 Buffalo 0 Final Indianapolis 7 Cincinnati 35 Final New York 7 Philadelphia 37 Final St. Louis 13 Miami 14 Final Kansas City 14 Green Bay 34 Final Carolina 10 Pittsburgh 0 Final New England 13 New York 16 Final Washington 24 Tampa Bay 10 Final Baltimore 22 New Orleans 13 Final Chicago 13 Cleveland 33 Final San Francisco 40 Houston 13 Final Minnesota 19 Tennessee 3 Final Denver 27 Dallas 3 Final Arizona 9 San Diego 12 Final Seattle 31 Oakland 41