You know it's a big game when you repeatedly hear the term "big boy pads" coming out of the Cardinals locker room. According to various players, this is what they need to wear whenever the schedule reads – Cardinals vs 49ers.
"Everybody says this is just another game, but if you've been here for history, it's not just another game. It's one of those games where you're going to have to put your big boy pads on. It's not going to be Arena Football, it's going to be man up," Darnell Dockett said. "They're going to test your will. That's what they do."
Both teams sit tied (3-2) in the NFC West and, so far this season, both teams have won with defense. In fact, the Cardinals have not allowed a touchdown in more than seven quarters covering 24 opponent possessions.
"I think they were underrated last year as a defense, but this year they're very good," said 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick. "They play hard, they play fast, show a lot of different looks. Defenses are going to change every time we see them. They're going to have new wrinkles."
In fact, when the 49ers examine their division rival, they see a lot of change period.
"Quite a bit's new," Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said. "New coaching staff, new players. Quite a few guys that are staples on their team. But they've added a mix of quite a few good players and it's really a new team in that regard and they're playing very well."
Same goes for the Niners, especially on defense. In a 34-3 win over Houston, the 49ers forced four turnovers and converted each one into points -- three touchdowns and a field goal. The 49ers' three interceptions were their most since three picks on Dec. 19, 2011, against Pittsburgh.
Arizona must take care of the ball. And that includes QB Carson Palmer, who is coming off a three interception game and has thrown nine picks in 5 games.
On defense, the third-ranked Cardinals rush defense must neutralize running back Frank Gore and an oversized SF offensive line. For example, San Francisco has nine rushing plays of 20-or-more yards, ranking first in the NFL.
In addition, the 49ers now have the services of former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin.
"It's just another game for me. It's a divisional game," Boldin said. "I'm four years removed from Arizona, so it's pretty much a turnover. I barely know any of the guys there, so it's not a big deal for me."
Bottom line – the Cardinals final trip to Candlestick Park (brand new Levi's Stadium will debut in 2014) will prove to be a measuring stick of sorts. Where do the Cards truly rank within one of the toughest divisions in the NFL?
"NFC West games are NFC West games. There is a rivalry to it," Palmer said. "There is nastiness to this division, especially defensively