San Francisco 49ers (1-6) at Arizona Cardinals (1-6)
Outside of the Bills, who are starting street free agent Derek Anderson right now, the Cardinals are easily the worst team in the NFL, ranking 31st in first down rate differential at -9.97% and in point differential at -92. Even in their one win, against these 49ers in San Francisco, they lost the first down rate battle by 12.60% and only were able to win because of a +5 turnover margin and a return touchdown, which is not sustainable week-to-week. They managed just 10 first downs to 33 for the 49ers in that game.
This time around, even though this game is in Arizona, I expect a different result. Despite also being 1-6 and starting backup quarterback CJ Beathard, the 49ers haven’t been terrible this season and actually rank around middle of the pack in first down rate differential on the season at +0.71%. Beathard has completed 62.4% of his passes for an average of 7.53 YPA and the offense has picked up first downs at a 37.12% rate in his 4 starts, not much below their rate in Garoppolo’s 3 starts, 41.30%.
The 49ers have been killed by the turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, the 49ers lost the turnover battle by 4 last week against the Rams, but teams with a turnover margin of -4, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. Even in games in which the 49ers have lost the turnover margin by 1 and 3 respectively, the 49ers hung within 2 points of the Chargers and 3 points of the Packers on the road, so if the 49ers’ -15 turnover margin stays steady, the result of that will be very noticeable on the scoreboard.
At the very least, it’s highly unlikely they keep up their current turnover pace, which would put them at -34 at the end of the season, the worst in recent memory. Even the winless Browns were just -28 last season and that was the highest mark since 2000. Facing a weak opponent this week, the 49ers could easily play turnover neutral football and get a relatively easy win on the road. As long as this line is under 3, which means the 49ers basically just have to win to cover, I like the 49ers a lot this week.
San Francisco 49ers 24 Arizona Cardinals 17
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -1