The Thursday night matchup between the Cardinals and 49ers will be a get-well game for one team. But which one?
The Cardinals, labeled an NFC contender before the season, come into Levi’s Stadium at 1-3, the same record the 49ers have earned. Plus, their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, may not play because of a concussion. If he can’t go, Drew Stanton would take his place.
Arizona lost to the Patriots in the season opener, 23-21, then rebounded to pound the Bucs, 40-7. But the Cards have now lost consecutive games, 33-18 to the Bills and 17-13 to the Rams.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are struggling on both offense and defense, lost standout inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman this week and have a starting quarterback in Blaine Gabbert who has yet to prove he can throw the ball deep to help open up the running game for Carlos Hyde.
Oddsmakers are betting it’s the Cardinals who get well, making them 4½-point favorites.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said this week he believes Palmer may be healthy enough to play.
“He looked good,” Arians told reporters Tuesday. “So we’ll wait and see. He’s got to go through protocol.”
Even if Palmer can’t go, the Cardinals are a dangerous offensive team. Running back David Johnson has had four straight games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage and wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd can give secondaries fits.
The 49ers’ defense, meanwhile, is banged up, with Bowman out and defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner limited. San Francisco will need returning outside linebacker Aaron Lynch and Ahmad Brooks to put some pressure on the quarterback to keep either Palmer or Stanton from having enough time to find Fitzgerald and Floyd on deep routes. Brooks has had good success against Arizona. He has six sacks in five career home games vs. the Cardinals.
On offense, the 49ers continue to hope that Gabbert can get some momentum. Through four weeks, his numbers aren’t good: a 73.1 quarterback rating, just 182 yards per game in the air and four interceptons to go with four touchdown passes.
But, the 49ers do play much better at home. Against a struggling Cardinals team, a San Francisco victory isn’t out of the question. The Niners are 6-1 vs. Arizona at home in their past seven meetings.
Kickoff is set for 5:25 p.m.