49ers a measuring stick for Cardinals on many levels

Cardinals get measuring-stick game against hated 49ers, with winner getting a leg up in playoff chase.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer hasn't been in Arizona long enough to understand the blood feud between the Cardinals and the 49ers.

"You don't really have an in-state rival like you do in some cities," the Cardinals quarterback said Wednesday. "It's not so much the rivalry aspect of it. It's just this is an NFC West team, and these guys won it last year."

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett begs to differ.

"Everybody says it's just another game, but if you've been here for history, it ain't just another game," Dockett said. "It's one of those games where you have to put your big-boy pads on. It ain't going to be no arena football. It's going to be man up and they're going to test your will."

In this Sunday's instance at Candlestick Park -- the Cards' final game at the storied venue, which is slated for demolition in early 2014 -- the 49ers will also test just how far a staunch defense and a subpar offense can carry the Cardinals.

Arizona is 3-2, and that mark is all that matters in the end. But with the exception of New Orleans, which battered the Cards, the competition (St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Carolina) has not been at the level that the Cardinals will see on Sunday -- and will see again next Thursday when the Seahawks come to University of Phoenix Stadium.

"This team right here is probably the most talented team we've played against, by far, on every level: offense, defense and special teams," Dockett said of the 49ers. "We're looking forward to the challenge."

There are a few wrinkles to add to the mix this year, most notably San Francisco's addition of former Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

"This will probably be the second time in my career I've ever rooted against him," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "I always want to see him do well. He's like a brother to me, but we need this game a lot more than they need it."

The 49ers may debate the latter notion, but in terms of confidence and playoff implications, Fitzgerald's point is worth dissecting.

The four-game stretch the Cards are about to begin once looked murderous. San Francisco and Seattle both still seem daunting, but Atlanta and Houston, the latter two opponents, are struggling and won't have key players (Julio Jones and Owen Daniels) available against Arizona.

Nobody expects the Cardinals to win in San Francisco, particularly with their recent offensive struggles, but if they somehow do, they would gain a turbo boost in confidence from defeating the defending NFC champs as well as a leg up in the playoff chase.

"We understand the road to winning the NFC West goes through San Francisco," Fitzgerald said. "It's pretty much the same nucleus of guys coming back. 

"That aside, we love to play against them. If I could only win one game in the division, beat one team, it would definitely be the 49ers. That's just the way it's been around here for years."

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