Five 49ers to watch vs. Cardinals in regular-season finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SANTA CLARA — Coach Kyle Shanahan goes through every scenario in his head.
Of course, he is not going to share publicly how the 49ers plan to handle their regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.
The 49ers plan on pushing for the win and a possible No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
As far as all the other scenarios, Shanahan knows how he’s going to handle the situation and that's for the rest of us to watch unfold on Sunday.
“I think about a lot of that stuff," Shanahan said. "I don’t talk about it all. We’ll see how it plays out and we’ll see what the situation is and I know one thing we would love to be the one seed.
"But right now we got the two seed and we want to make sure we at least stay the two seed, in order to do that, we need to win."
Of course, the 49ers want to win to stretch their win streak to 10 games.
But it also is more important that the team sets itself up properly for the postseason. Here are five players to watch against the Cardinals:
5. DE Nick Bosa
The best defensive player on the best defense in the league has a chance to make a run at Aldon Smith’s team record of 19.5 sacks.
Nick Bosa, the favorite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leads the NFL with 17.5 sacks. He was held without a sack last week against the Raiders for only the third time all season.
But he still made the play of the game when he pushed Las Vegas left tackle Kolton Miller into quarterback Jarrett Stidham as he was throwing in overtime. The ball fluttered in the air, and Tashaun Gipson made the interception and returned it 56 yards to set up Robbie Gould’s winning field goal.
Sure, the 49ers want Bosa to pile up the stats. But they do not want to overwork him at this stage in the season to get there.
4. RT Mike McGlinchey
Mike McGlinchey described his “Welcome to the NFL” moment in training camp in 2018 during joint practices against the Houston Texans. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt dumped McGlinchey on his butt during a one-on-one pass-rush drill.
Now, McGlinchey is playing his best football and figures to be in line for a big contract this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Watt has announced his plan to retire and figures to play the final game of his 12-year career.
One week after doing well against the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby, McGlinchey can take a lot of momentum into the postseason with another strong showing against Watt.
You know the Cardinals are going to try to scheme things up to allow Watt to finish his career on a high note.
3. RB Elijah Mitchell
When running back Elijah Mitchell has been on the field this season, he has been ultra-productive.
However, two knee injuries kept Mitchell sidelined for most of the season. He should be back on Sunday to knock off some rust.
But if his return earlier in the season was any indication, maybe he does not need to see a whole lot of action to be ready for the playoffs.
Mitchell sustained a knee injury in the season opener. He returned in Week 10 and carried the ball 18 times for 89 rushing yards. In Week 12, he sustained another knee injury.
Mitchell returned to practice this week off injured reserve, and should be ready to go.
He was the team’s leading rusher last season. This year, he has 224 yards rushing on just 40 carries for a 5.6-yard average.
2. S Talanoa Hufanga
Safety Talanoa Hufanga was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team, but his recent play has dropped due to too many mental mistakes.
Hufanga’s breakdowns in coverage have come as a result of watching the wrong things, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said.
“It’s too many big plays we’re giving up and Huf knows that,” Ryans said. “You have to clean up your eyes, especially when you’re protecting us in the back end. You’re the eraser for us.
“Your eyes can’t be (in the backfield) and he knows that and he has to get better at it.”
Hufanga has to play assignment sound on Sunday and carry over those good habits into the postseason.
1. WR Deebo Samuel
The 49ers are not as reliant on Deebo Samuel as they were a year ago when he clearly was the central figure of the offense as a wide receiver and a running back.
But, still, the 49ers need Samuel to get into something resembling football shape for a potential postseason run.
Samuel has not played since Week 14, when he was carted off the field with knee and ankle issues. The injuries were not nearly as serious as they first looked.
Samuel was back for a full week of practice this week, and is expected to see some action against the Cardinals. It might be important for him to see some action in order to help with his conditioning for the playoffs.