Through the last few seasons, matchups between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals have been somewhat high-pressure situations in which both teams are fighting for playoff positioning in an awful, but competitive NFC West division. The NFL, to their credit, did their best to try and cultivate a rivalry between the two teams, who were viewed as the up-and-comers in the division. To their credit, a rivalry between the players (namely Vernon Davis and Darnell Dockett) developed, but it never really did have that "rivalry" feel to it.
Now on Sunday, the divisional matchup seems to have very little significance in regards to the NFC West. It's true that the Cardinals are winning football games right now, but the 49ers have a five-game lead in the West and just beat the very tough New York Giants. More than just winning, the 49ers showed that quarterback Alex Smith can take charge of a game and win it for his team - something most people knew already, but that the general public was very critical of throughout the beginning of the season.
For San Francisco, the matchup represents a chance to maintain their place in the standings within the conference and winning is ever-important with the possibility of the Green Bay Packers losing (very slim possibility) and other teams with only a couple losses bringing up the read. Being the top of the division and a potential No. 1 or No. 2 seed, the 49ers will have to constantly be on the lookout for trap games, so this game against the Cardinals is significant, even if there's no real rivalry to speak of.
The Cardinals are coming off a very strong win, too: beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. John Skelton started that game at quarterback, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had one of the best games of his career. In short, it was just a great performance against a team that had shown to be vulnerable in trap games. We won't know until Sunday if the 49ers are vulnerable to them or not.
At the very least, though, these teams have combined for some exciting matchups in the past. It seems like every season, at least one of the two games is a very good one.
There's no word yet on who will be starting at quarterback for the Cardinals, and the status of running back Frank Gore is still up in the air for the 49ers. This game is set for Sunday at Candlestick Park, stay tuned for news and updates throughout the week.