Before the season, this Sunday's game between the 49ers and Cardinals was expected to have big implications in the NFC West.
It still might, but only because the 49ers are close to clinching, and the Cardinals are suffering through their worst season in five years under coach Ken Whisenhunt.
As they were winning consecutive division titles in 2008 and '09, the Cardinals regarded the 49ers as their biggest division rivals. The 49ers were awful in recent years, but still managed to win four straight over the Cardinals under former coach Mike Singletary.
This year, the franchises have gone opposite directions. Two years ago, Whisenhunt was the young, up-and-coming coach who was turning around a perennial loser. Now that's Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers.
The 49ers have been able to do this year what the Cardinals have not: win close games. The 49ers' advantage is they have a much better defense than the Cardinals. They can shut down opposing offenses when they have to.
The Cardinals have struggled with that for most of the season. And the Cardinals offense has never developed any consistency.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb has missed the last two games with a foot injury that includes a turf toe, a sprained ligament in the mid-foot and a bone bruise. He hasn't practiced in two weeks, and the hope is that he will to get enough work in this week to start.
The Cardinals appear to have the luxury now of taking their time with Kolb. They are 2-0 with John Skelton starting.
Skelton has had highs and lows in his two starts. His two interceptions against the Eagles cost the Cardinals 10 points. But he also threw three touchdown passes, and he's led the team to touchdowns in the fourth quarters of both games this year.
It's not coach Ken Whisenhunt's style to address a touchy issue in the hours after a victory. As expected, he brushed aside questions about a quarterback controversy, saying he just wanted to enjoy the win.
The best bet is that Kolb will start again when he's healthy. That could be another week, however. Kolb hasn't practiced in two weeks, and the most likely scenario is that he will be the backup in San Francisco.
Cardinals might be patient Kolb
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