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Murph: This week: Beware the Cards!



© Joe Rondone/The Repu | 2023 Sep 27

I feel like a jungle guide for the 49ers this weekend, wearing the pith helmet, carefully using the machete to carve the path to the Arizona Cardinals game and looking down all the while, waiting to yell…


You don’t want to wind up in one of those rope cage things that spring up to the treetops, like you’d see on ABC’s “Lost.” (Shout out to “Lost,” man. The creators had no clue what they were doing after Season One. They were, like, ‘Wait … you renewed us?’)

The 49ers are 3-0 and feeling themselves. They are rested. They are at home in the friendly confines of Levi’s Stadium, celebrating its 10th season already. Brandon Aiyuk should be back. The Arizona Cardinals are the Arizona Cardinals.

Right into the danger zone, as I was just saying to my good friend Kenny Loggins.

Even Las Vegas wants to tempt you into a catatonic state of complacency by Sunday. The 49ers have been installed as 14 point favorites. That’s sorta bonkers, particularly considering the Cardinals just beat the Dallas Freaking Cowboys, who ESPN had anointed as the love child of the Tom Brady Patriots and Bart Starr Packers after Week 2. 

And it’s sorta bonkers because laying 14 points in the NFL is sorta bonkers. Any Given . . . two touchdown cover? 

It’s rare as heck. I looked it up. Only once in the past decade have the 49ers been favored by 14 points — and it was last year against these same Cardinals. (Spoiler alert: the Niners covered. Won, 38-13.)

You have to go back to 2013, the Harbaugh Heyday, to top it. That year, the 49ers were favored by 14.5 at Jacksonville in Week 8 — and Colin (Yo, Jets, My Phone Is On) Kaepernick covered, 42-10. Later that season, Harbaugh’s Heroes were again favored by 14.5 at home against Atlanta in Week 15, and did *not* cover in a 34-24 win . . . and in fact only won the game because of Navarro Bowman’s iconic Pick at the ‘Stick. (You may now brush away a tear.)

More fun factoids: the 49ers actually have been 13.5 *underdogs* since then, at Seattle in Week 10 of the Tomsula Epoch (Russ Wilson covered, 29-13), and the very next year in Chip’s Conundrum, when Chip Kelly’s Niners were twice 13.5 ‘dogs. Oh, the indignity. At least the Chipster covered in the Arizona desert in a 23-20 loss. The Visor wasn’t as fortunate in the Week 14 trip to Atlanta, 41-13.

Fun factoids, eh?

All by way of saying how rare it is that the oddsmakers want to put that much disparity between your favorite team and the point spread. 

Are the 49ers that good now? Is Brock Purdy, with only EIGHT regular season starts on his resume, good enough to roll out of bed on a Sunday morning in the South Bay and put up 30 points, again? Is the defense still so hungry that it will snuff out Josh Dobbs’ semi-scary QB run game and hold another team to seven points, or 12 points, like it did the Steelers and Giants? 

Because…you know what happens next week, right?

The Dallas Cowboys, that team ESPN’s coverage level had you believing was the reincarnated hybrid of Otto Graham’s Browns and the Super Bowl Shuffle Bears, arrives at Levi’s for a Sunday Night clash that will surely have the Jock Blog hyperventilating. 

That means human nature enters the storyline. That means the 49ers have spent the last free weekend boning up on press clippings, looking right past Jonathan Gannon’s Cards (who wouldn’t after that virally boring pep talk he gave this summer?) and right to the historic October 8 matchup of the blue star and the ‘SF’ on the helmet.

To top it off, the 49ers have this weird thing with the Cardinals. It’s as if the Cardinals are so boring and irrelevant (with respect to the 2009 team in which Larry Fitzgerald became Jerry Rice-gerald), the 49ers play sometimes boring and irrelevant football against them. The 49ers were good in 2021 — and the Cardinals beat the 49ers *twice*. Paulie Mac and I still get night sweats thinking of the 1988 game in Phoenix when Bill Walsh’s crew blew a 23-0 lead and lost — and that 49ers team won the gosh darn Super Bowl.

This is all by way of saying: Beware the ides of October 1. The Cardinals are in town. Don’t get caught in the rope cage thing that springs up to the treetops. 

You have been warned.