Why Week 11 vs. Cardinals is Most Important of 49ers Season
The San Francisco 49ers' Week 11 clash with the Arizona Cardinals may not have the allure of their thrilling Monday Night Football matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, or the several forthcoming high-profile games of a daunting stretch run but, for a team looking to stay ahead of the pack in the race for the number one seed, it is by far the most important of the campaign so far.
Having dropped a 27-24 classic to the Seahawks on Monday, the 49ers know a shock defeat to a Cardinals team that gave them a significant late scare in Week 9 would mean them falling behind Seattle in the NFC West standings. San Francisco would be dropped back into the Wild Card spots going into a three-game run in which the Niners will face the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, with two of those games coming on the road.
The difference between approaching that trio of games at 8-2 and doing so at 9-1, still in the lead of the division, cannot be overstated. With victory on Sunday, the Niners would likely be just a couple of wins away from booking a first postseason berth since the 2013 season. Succumb to a shock defeat and the path to the playoffs begins to look more challenging in a conference loaded with impressive teams.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan will know the Cardinals pose a clear danger to the 49ers, with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray having made great strides in recent weeks, completing 70 percent of his passes and throwing for two touchdowns against San Francisco in Week 9, before tossing three scores and posting his fourth 300-yard game of the season in a shootout loss to the Buccaneers.
With the likes of George Kittle, Matt Breida and Joe Staley unavailable for San Francisco, there are plenty of signs to suggest Arizona could provide the Niners with another scare as they approach the crucial juncture of their season. Given the absences on the offensive side of the ball and the struggles of San Francisco's wide receivers against Seattle, it could well be up to league's top pass defense to take over the game and ensure Murray and Co. are not given a sniff of a shock triumph.
Regardless of whether it is the offense or the defense that inspires the Niners, it is pivotal they find a way to seal a ninth win of the season. The stakes are high and, even after their incredible start to the season, the 49ers can ill-afford a second successive slip-up.