The 49ers won today's game but the Cardinals won the battle for draft position. Arizona will pick fifth in the April draft while the 49ers will pick seventh no matter what happens in tonight's Seahawks-Rams game. Even if the Seahawks lose and they finish 6-10 along with San Francisco, the Seahawks will pick eighth because of a more difficult strength of schedule. ***Update*** Seattle won. Because they made the playoffs, they'll pick no better than 21st. The Rams will pick 15th. For full draft order, click here.
All three teams are expected to be interested in quarterbacks. The top five QB prospects, if certain underclassmen declare for the draft, likely will be:
1.) Andrew Luck, Stanford
2.) Jake Locker, Washington
3.) Cam Newton, Auburn
4.) Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
5.) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Meanwhile, one of the top free-agent quarterbacks is bound to be Alex Smith, who finished with 276 yards and a 107.8 passer rating. Smith has surpassed 276 yards five times in his career, but all of them had been losses. Smith will be an unrestricted free agent after the league year ends and likely will have a few suitors. Asked if he would consider returning to San Francisco, he said: "It's something, no question, I'm not ruling out."
Several young 49ers got a chance to play in the finale, beginning with third-round draft pick NaVorro Bowman, who started at inside linebacker in place of Patrick Willis (broken hand). Bowman finished with eight tackles, second only to Justin Smith's 10 stops. "Bow -- he played phenomenal," Willis said afterward. "I told him after the game, 'That was the way to step in and play."
Another rookie, cornerback Tramaine Brock, also had significant playing time and found himself lined up against Arizona's top receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, on several plays. In addition, offensive tackle Alex Boone suited up for the first time this season and was on the field for Brian Westbrook's six-yard run mid way through the third quarter. Boone played left tackle from that point forth.
One of the team's pending free agents is linebacker Takeo Spikes, who turned 34 this season but who also started all 16 games for the first time since 2004 and finished second to Willis on the team in total tackles. "A lot of people are asking me on my Twitter page, 'Is this going to be my last season playing?'" Spikes said. "Absolutely not. I've got a lot left in the tank. There's a lot of sap left on the tree."
Westbrook scored two touchdowns on the ground Sunday, becoming the only the fourth player all time with 40 rushing touchdowns and 30 receiving touchdowns. The others are Marshall Faulk, Lenny Moore and James Brooks.
No big injuries in the game. The team's starting safeties, Dashon Goldson and Reggie Smith, both suffered hip pointers. That allowed a pair of rookies, Taylor Mays and Chris Maragos, to finish out the game.
-- Matt Barrows