The NFL's international series continues as the San Francisco 49ers (5-4) take on the Arizona Cardinals (4-6) in Mexico City for "Monday Night Football." The 49ers, winners of two straight, need a victory to keep pace with the surprising first-place Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. On the other hand, the Cardinals are looking to build off last week's win over the Rams and force themselves back into the divisional race.
San Francisco enters the game as a heavy favorite, with Cardinals QB Kyler Murray out and DeAndre Hopkins limited with a hamstring injury as well. Even if Hopkins is able to go, bettors are stuck trying to guess how effective he will be against one of the league's most formidable defenses. Favorites of 10 or more have struggled to cover the spread all season (4-11 ATS), so I understand why bettors are reluctant to lay double digits on a neutral site.
Here's why I am confident San Francisco is the side tonight, and also a few alternative ways to bet the game that will get you off the big number.
The Cardinals are 4-3 ATS as an underdog, but they haven't been a dog of this size all season. In Week 1, they closed +6.5 against Kansas City, which couldn't have gone worse. The Chiefs routed the Cardinals, 44-21, in a game where Arizona trailed by 30 heading into the fourth quarter. Now, the 49ers offense isn't as explosive as the Chiefs, but they have been one of the league's most efficient since the acquisition of Christian McCaffrey.
Since the trade, San Francisco has ranked third in offensive success rate (53.3%) in non-garbage time situations. That doesn't bode well for a Cardinals defense that can't get off the field on third downs. Arizona has allowed opponents to convert 43.97% of the time, ranking 26th of all defenses. Before the Cardinals held a John Wolford-led Rams offense to 17 points last week, Arizona allowed 30+ points to its three previous opponents. I expect the 49ers to fall into the same range, and let their defense do the rest of the work to cover this number. That's where the most advantageous matchup lies for San Francisco.
The 49ers defense allows the fewest yards per game in the league, thanks to a suffocating pass rush that ranks in the top five in sacks and adjusted sack rate. I expect them to overwhelm a banged-up Cardinals offensive line that is less than full strength due to injury. Considering it's going to be Colt McCoy at quarterback, I don't know if Arizona can scrape together enough points to stay within this number. They likely have to score 21 to have a chance, and that's a feat only two teams have accomplished this season against this 49ers defense. The 10 points are hard to swallow in a divisional game, but San Francisco typically wins by wide margins. Four of their five victories this season have come by 15 points or more.
Alternate betting options for the 49ers
First-half spread - 49ers (-4.5)
If you have been following the Cardinals, you are well aware they are a second-half team. Arizona ranks 26th in first-half scoring, but it is the league's third-highest scoring team in the second half. Tracking these team tendencies can be incredibly valuable, particularly with all the available live, in-game betting opportunities. Betting the 49ers on the first-half spread shortens the number and allows you to isolate a time in the game when Arizona has consistently struggled. Also, an added benefit is that you don't have to stay up late sweating the dreaded backdoor cover. Another option would be to bet the 49ers in the "Halftime/Final" market at -140 odds and eliminate the point spread altogether. It's not a wager I recommend for most games, but it is worth exploring when one team has a first-half advantage, as we see in this one.
One-game parlay (+110)
San Francisco ML
George Kittle has 40+ receiving yards
It's possible the atypical travel schedule to a neutral site in Mexico City makes bettors uncomfortable with leveraging a 49ers fast start to their wager. Kyle Shanahan handles team travel better than most, but it's still a valid concern. So here's a way to tie Arizona's biggest defensive weakness to the San Francisco moneyline.
The Cardinals are one of the NFL's worst teams at covering tight ends, and George Kittle has been waiting all season to break out. Arizona allows the second-most receptions to tight ends and more yards than any other team in the NFL. My favorite stand-alone prop is Kittle's longest reception (Over 18.5 yards), which he has eclipsed in his last six games. However, using the 40+ receiving yards as the second leg yields an excellent +110 return. George Kittle has gained over 40 yards receiving in three of the last five weeks, finishing with 39 yards in one of those games. He should get this one to the bank with ease against this defense.