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Week 5 NFL Picks: Stanton steps in

Two NFC West sides look to turn their seasons around following early-season struggles.

Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.

After going 9-6 in his Week 4 picks, Zac’s season-long record stands at 33-29-1 heading into Week 5.

Here are his thoughts on tonight’s game, which sees the San Francisco 49ers (1-3) host the Arizona Cardinals (1-3).

Arizona Cardinals (-4) at San Francisco 49ers

After beginning the season with high expectations due to their outstanding 2015 campaign, the Cardinals have floundered out of the gates in 2016. Following a 17-13 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Arizona dropped to 1-3 and sit two games behind the Rams and the Seahawks in the NFC West. To make matters worse, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer seems likely to miss out on Thursday night’s game after suffering a concussion in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s loss to the Rams.

San Francisco has certainly had struggles of their own in 2016. The 49ers opened the season with a 28-0 home victory over the Rams, but have dropped three straight decisions to Carolina, Seattle and Dallas. Much like Arizona, San Francisco also lost a key player in Week 4, as linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against the Cowboys.

Despite the identical records at this point in the season, there remains a significant disparity between the two sides when it comes to talent and depth. On offense, the Cardinals should find success against San Francisco, especially considering the 49ers just lost their best defensive player. While Drew Stanton was far from exemplary (4 for 11 for 37 yards and two interceptions) in relief of Palmer on Sunday, he did go 5-3 in the starting quarterback’s place two seasons ago, and he possesses a capable supporting cast around him. One would expect Bruce Arians to continue featuring second-year running back David Johnson against a San Francisco defense that ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (140.5). Johnson currently leads the NFL with 510 yards from scrimmage through four games.

Defensively, the Cardinals should also take advantage of an uninspiring San Francisco offense. The Cardinals have a pair of fierce pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, and a secondary that is itching to get back to the dominance it displayed in 2015. While a poor collection of skill position players certainly hasn’t done him any favors this season, Blaine Gabbert has yet to resemble a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL through his six seasons.

The Cardinals have been uncharacteristically sloppy during the last two weeks (10 turnovers), but I think that they right the ship behind a big night from Johnson and a strong performance by the defense.

Pick: Arizona (-4)