The Arizona Cardinals went from a 4-0 contender to a 5-10 flop this season. Now, they'll close out their woeful season Sunday at Candlestick Park against a 49ers team that's earned plenty of respect from Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Four years ago, Whisenhunt was leading the Cardinals into the playoffs and ultimately Super Bowl XLIII. How does Whisenhunt see this season's playoff unfolding?
"I couldn't even speak with any kind of crediblity on that," Whisenhunt said in a Wednesday morning call with Bay Area media. "The only information I see is on highlights or what I hear people talking about. I have a lot of respect for both teams from the NFC West that are going, and they'll give people issues and you always pull for teams in your division.
"We've played Green Bay and we've played Atlanta. The playoffs, that something you never know how it's going to go."
In 2008, the Cardinals went 9-7 to earn the No. 4 seed. To win the NFC crown, they beat the Falcons 30-24, the Carolina Panthers 33-13 and Philadelphia Eagles 32-25. In the Super Bowl, they fell 27-23 to Whisenhunt's former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The most pressing concern for the 49ers' Super Bowl drive is whether their defense will have Justin Smith, who missed Sunday's loss at Seattle with an elbow injury.
Asked how the Seahawks -- and the Patriots the week earlier -- attacked the 49ers without Smith, Whisenhunt said: "The 49ers still look good defensively. When you have a good team like they have, the next guy steps up and plays well."
When the Cardinals last faced the 49ers -- a 24-3 win for the 49ers on Oct. 29 -- Alex Smith completed 18 of 19 passes in his last full game.
Whisenhunt's impression of the 49ers' move to bench Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick: "I can't comment much on a quarterback switch. We've had our share of quarterback moves this year. ... They've done good job all year. There's not a lot to complain about when they have the record they have and have a chance to win the division."
The 49ers can clinch the NFC West with a win Sunday, or if the Packers lose at Minnesota.
Whisenhunt declined to reveal who would start at quarterback for the Cardinals, though Brian Hoyer is the leading candidate over Ryan Lindley and John Skelton. A decision will be announced later today after practice, Whisenhunt said.
Aside from their quarterback shuffle, the Cardinals' fate has been doomed by their offensive line, which has been severely impacted by injuries and overall poor play.
"We've started three or four centers, have two rookie tackles and different guys at different positions all year," Whisenhunt said. "It's not easy.
"(Former 49ers Adam Snyder) started at guard and is now starting at center. He's had
Whisenhunt began his call by stating he's "hanging in there" amid the season's fallout.
"It's been tough. This business is about winning games and when you don't do that it makes everything more difficult."