49ers vs Cardinals Week 18 preview: Show up, handle business, and hopefully land the #1 seed

Week 18! You (we) made it! With one game left before the 49ers begin their playoff push toward a sixth Lombardi, the regular season closes out with a home meeting against the Arizona Cardinals.

These Cardinals are limping to the finish line with a handful of injuries to key players and a long-since departed shot at the playoffs, leaving not much else but pride to play for in this one.

The odds reflect that on DraftKings Sportsbook, which currently has the 49ers as a two-touchdown favorite with the over-under set at 40.5 points. Here are some things to keep an eye on in the 49ers’ regular-season finale.

Just show up and handle business

Nothing in the NFL is as simple as showing up and guaranteeing yourself a victory, but there won’t be many chances to be as close to that as the 49ers will be this weekend. There’s a reason they are favored by multiple touchdowns in this one. The focus must remain on showing up and handling business without looking too far ahead to the playoff run that awaits them beyond this game.

It’s looking like Arizona will be on its fourth starting quarterback of the season, with David Blough slated to make just his second career start, something he will have to do without the assistance of star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Perhaps there is some reluctance to be overconfident given what Jarrett Stidham was able to do last week to the 49ers’ vaunted defense in his first career start, but the odds of that being repeated by Blough and the supporting cast around him are slim to none.

This one is pretty straightforward for the 49ers. Show up, stay disciplined, avoid any catastrophic self-inflicted wounds, and the talent gap should take care of this game relatively easily and, in turn, give the 49ers a shot at the number one seed while at the very least guaranteeing they’re locked in for that number two spot in the NFC playoffs.

History on the horizon

Over the course of Brock Purdy’s first handful of NFL starts, it felt like each week brought with it a new graphic displaying the historic achievement being accomplished by the 49ers’ rookie quarterback. This week is no different, as Purdy has a chance to continue to etch his name next to some of the most accomplished rookie quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Purdy can join Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Kruczek as the only rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to win each of their first five starts. With two touchdown passes against Arizona, Purdy would join Justin Herbert as the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for two-plus touchdowns in six consecutive games.

George Kittle enters this game with 5,225 receiving yards in his career, and with 12 or more against the Cardinals, Kittle would pass Travis Kelce for the 3rd-most receiving yards in NFL history by a tight end in their first six seasons in the league. Kittle had 84 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers’ previous meeting with Arizona this season.

Christian McCaffrey needs 100 yards from scrimmage to be the first running back since LaDainian Tomlinson to record 1,900 yards from scrimmage in three of his first six seasons in the NFL. McCaffrey also made history last week with his 439 receptions and counting, now becoming the new record for most receptions by a running back in their first six seasons in the league.

Nick Bosa has a chance to make some history as well, as he puts the finishing touches on his masterpiece defensive player of the year campaign. Bosa has recorded at least one sack in 12 games this season, and with one against Arizona, he would become just the fourth player to record a sack in 13 games within a single season since the individual sack became an official statistic in 1982.

Ramp up for Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel

This game provides the perfect opportunity for both Mitchell and Samuel to get a much-needed tune-up before the team embarks on its playoff journey. Mitchell hasn’t played since week 12, and Samuel hasn’t played since week 14, and this Cardinals team and their less-than-spectacular defense that ranks in the bottom third in the league in a lot of key categories.

A final farewell

While he does not play for the 49ers, we all get the pleasure of watching the final act in the career of one of the greatest defensive players that have ever stepped on an NFL field. Defensive end JJ Watt announced his pending retirement, which, if it holds, would make Sunday’s contest at Levi’s Stadium the last time that the three-time defensive player of the year ever takes the field again.

Watt has been a force of nature, truly one of the most dominating players we will ever see grace the gridiron in the National Football League. Watt was a seven-time all-pro, three-time defensive player of the year award winner and a two-time sack leader.

If not for injuries, Watt might have had the opportunity to go down as the greatest defensive player of all time. Even in spite of them, Watt leaves this game with every individual accolade possible, perhaps most important the Walter Payton Man of the Year award he was recognized within 2017 for the work he did in the community around the greater Houston area following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

Fourth-string quarterbacks, playoff spots are spoken for, etc., if there is anything preventing you from getting excited about this matchup, try and take some solace in the fact that you have the opportunity to watch one of the greatest players, but more importantly, one of the greatest human beings our game has ever seen the ride off into the sunset.

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