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Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers: Prediction, preview, pick to win

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The Sports Xchange
Drew Stanton and the Arizona Cardinals square off with the San Francsico 49ers this weekend. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Drew Stanton and the Arizona Cardinals square off with the San Francsico 49ers this weekend. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-4) AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (0-8)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Levi's Stadium. TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (field reporter).

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SERIES HISTORY: 53rd regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 29-23. Though San Francisco holds a 17-14 series advantage since division realignment in 2002, Arizona has won five straight and six of the last seven. The Cardinals' five-game winning streak is their longest in the series and represents their longest win streak against any opponent.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers made news off the field this week, acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots' quarterback-in-waiting, for a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. While Garoppolo won't start this game, the team believes it has found its quarterback of the future.

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C.J. Beathard, assumedly making his final start before giving way to Garoppolo, has been sacked nine times in the past two games. Running back Carlos Hyde, who was held to 25 yards rushing in last week's loss in Philadelphia, gained 68 on 16 carries in the Niners' 18-15 overtime loss at Arizona on Oct. 1.

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The Cardinals will want to make sure they put quarterback Drew Stanton in as many stress-free situations as they can. For that to occur, they'll have to be much better on third downs. They rank in the bottom third of the league in third-down conversion percentage (36.4).

Expect Arizona to stick with the running game behind Adrian Peterson for as long as possible and for Stanton to try to move the chains with short- to medium-range passes. In those situations, his favorite targets are likely to be Fitzgerald and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas. The offensive line has helped allow 24 sacks, tied for seventh-most in the league, and San Francisco got to Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz three times last Sunday.

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Defensively, the Cardinals will put almost all of their emphasis into shutting down the 49ers' rushing attack first, then worrying about the quarterback. Arizona has been awful on third-down defense, ranking next-to-last at 47.7 percent. That stat will improve if the Cardinals can contain the run and disrupt and confuse Beathard.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--49ers WR Pierre Garcon vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson. When the teams met in Week 4, Garcon finished with four catches for 36 yards and was kept out of the end zone. Peterson shadowed him for most of the game and figures to travel with Garcon again this time out, assuming Garcon can play. He has been nursing a neck injury. The way Peterson has been shutting down No. 1 wideouts this season, it seems unlikely Garcon will be able to get off against the Cardinals regardless of who is playing quarterback for the 49ers.

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--Cardinals RB Adrian Peterson vs. 49ers MLB Reuben Foster. The Cardinals have had a bye to get Peterson further acclimated to their system, which is bad news for the 49ers. The good news: Foster appears likely to return from his hip injury, which could set up some potentially crowd-pleasing encounters.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon. No pressure, rookie, but the 49ers' focus at the top of the first round of the 2018 draft just shifted away from the quarterback position and quite possibly to an elite cover corner. Effective immediately, Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State's Derwin James are now competing for Witherspoon's starting spot. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald will help the 49ers in their in-house evaluations this week.

FAST FACTS: Cardinals QB Drew Stanton has 368 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two starts against the 49ers. ... RB Adrian Peterson has 902 rushing yards (90.2 per game) and six touchdowns in his past 10 road games vs. NFC West teams. He needs one rushing touchdown to become the ninth player in NFL history with 100. ... WR Larry Fitzgerald has 158 receptions, 2,099 yards and 17 touchdown catches in his career against San Francisco, his most vs. any opponent. ... WR Jaron Brown set career highs in receptions (eight) and yards (105) in the last meeting. ... LB Chandler Jones ranks third in the NFC with eight sacks. ... 49ers QB C.J. Beathard passed for 235 yards and rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown in his only career home start. He rushed for 40 yards last week. ... RB Carlos Hyde had 114 scrimmage yards in the Oct. 1 meeting. ... WR Pierre Garcon leads San Francisco with 500 yards receiving. ... DE Leger Douzable had two sacks last week. ... DE Forest Buckner is one of two defensive linemen, along with the Raiders' Khalil Mack, with 100 tackles and seven sacks.

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PREDICTION: Prior to blowout losses to Dallas and Philadelphia, the 49ers had been competitive despite going winless. They pushed the Cardinals to overtime a month ago when Arizona had Carson Palmer running the offense. If Beathard can avoid costly mistakes, the worst start to a season in San Francisco ends here.

OUR PICK: 49ers, 20-16.

--Ched Whitney

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