49ers, Cardinals Battle For NFC West Lead On MNF

By: Michael Robinson | Friday, October 26, 2012

The San Francisco 49ers look to revive their struggling offense when they visit the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football.

The Don Best Pro Odds have San Francisco as 7-point favorites after opening at 6½. The total is the lowest of the week at 38 an ESPN will broadcast at 8:30 p.m. (ET) from University of Phoenix Stadium. San Fran is well rested, last playing on Thursday, October 18.

San Francisco (5-2 straight up, 4-3 against the spread) started out great offensively at 29.8 PPG in the first five (going 4-1 ATS). That culminated with a 34-0 win at the Jets and 45-3 win vs. Buffalo. Quarterback Alex Smith was playing great and answering all the critics who questioned whether he was Super Bowl caliber.

Now fast forward to today. The 49ers have scored a total of 16 points the last two games in a home win (13-7) over Seattle and home loss (26-3) to the hated Giants. Both were failures to cover.

Smith threw four picks in those two games after just one in the first five. He has been playing through a finger injury, although he doesn’t want to use it as an excuse. Frank Gore (ribs) is another guy battling injury, but he’s probable after rushing for 136 yards vs. Seattle.

Gore will certainly be featured again this week against the Cardinals’ 20th-ranked run defense (120.9 YPG). However, Smith likely needs to reach the 200-yard plateau and be interception-free to cover this spread on the road.

The Cardinals (4-3 SU, 3-3-1 ATS) really need the home crowd Monday because they’re nothing like the group that won their first four games. They’ve lost three straight and are 0-3-1 ATS in the last four.

Despite all that, Arizona trails San Francisco by just one game in the NFC West along with Seattle, so this is a huge contest.

Quarterback John Skelton will get the start for the second straight week with the injury to Kevin Kolb (ribs).  Opposing defenses are doing a good job keying on superstar Larry Fitzgerald and forcing other receivers to beat them. That isn’t happening with enough regularity and will be a big test for the shaky Skelton.

The running game is also non-existent at 89.3 YPG (ranked 27th). LaRod Stephens-Howling had a breakout game last week at Minnesota (21-14 loss) with 104 yards on 20 carries, but that won’t happen again versus this 49ers run defense.

Note the ‘under’ is 6-1 for Arizona this season (3-0 in the last three) and it’s really hard to see where the offense comes this week.

Arizona will be without free safety Kerry Rhodes (back), which will cause a hole in the middle of the field. Look for Smith to exploit that with tight end Vernon Davis. Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett (hamstring) is also listed as questionable.

These teams last met in December in the desert with Arizona winning 21-19 as 3½-point underdogs. Skelton replaced an injured Kolb and threw for 282 yards and three TDs in leading a second-half comeback.

San Francisco was 5-1 SU and 6-0 ATS in the previous six meetings.

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