A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-49ers game Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.:
Scrambling at quarterback
Ryan Lindley will start over Logan Thomas because Drew Stanton cannot and might not be able to once the playoff game arrives. It's been a painful ride for the Cardinals at QB but an unavoidable one, and the latest news that a setback could sideline Stanton in the postseason makes it that much tougher. Lindley isn't the guy the Cardinals were hoping would lead them into the playoffs but that's where we are now. There were plays open for Lindley last weekend but he missed many with inaccurate passes. Can that be rectified after a week and more video study? The Cards can only hope.
Kap can't be DangeRuss
In case it wasn't clear when the Cardinals saw 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick long-stride his way to an electric 90-yard touchdown run last week against the Chargers, it was driven home Sunday night when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson broke off a 55-yard run. The Cards have to be able to contain the running QB, and there is little question that Kaepernick a) can run the ball well and b) doesn't throw the ball consistently enough this season. The Cards did a very nice job on Kaepernick in the teams' first meeting. Making sure he doesn't make a bunch of plays with his legs is crucial – or the Cards could end up with a similar result as they had against Wilson.
A defense that is mental
For a second straight week, the Cards will have a QB who in a perfect world wouldn't be playing. That tends to make it tough for points to be scored, and tough on a defense which then knows there is little to no room for error. That's where the mental strength comes in. The reality is points will be at a premium again, which isn't new – the Cards have scored just two offensive touchdowns in the last five games – and the defensive unit must adjust. It's not always fun dealing with that kind of pressure, but it's what the Cards must handle these days.
The Missing versus The Missing
The players the Cardinals do not have – starting with the quarterbacks – are well documented. But the 49ers have been hammered by similar circumstances, especially on defense. Most notable are the Pro Bowl inside linebackers NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, who missed all of and most of the season, respectively. They even have lost rookie Chris Borland, the ILB-star-in-waiting who is also done. Safety Eric Reid has a concussion, and the list goes on. The difference is the Cardinals have been able to overcome their issues while the 49ers are just hoping to be a .500 team. We'll see how that plays out when the teams meet Sunday, more than three months after their first meeting.
Images of the key 49ers players in advance of Sunday's game
Always be closing(?)
This is it, the Cardinals' last chance to right what's wrong and feel good going into the playoffs. One problem: The Cards are banged up, beyond just the quarterback position. Arians said the Cardinals are playing to win, but we'll have to see who is healthy enough to exactly play, and go from there. The object is to win in the playoffs, and the Cardinals are just trying to make sure they have enough able bodies as the postseason approaches.