Arizona has already wrapped up the NFC West, and has a chance to overhaul Carolina for the top seed in the NFC if the Panthers fall to Tampa Bay. Seattle is battling with Minnesota for the 5th seed, which would give them an easy first round match-up at Washington. With both teams still with something to play for, expect no quarter to be given in this historically brutal divisional match-up. Seattle had been flying high with their offense shredding opponents. Then came the St. Louis Rams, who beat the Seahawks in Seattle for the first time in over ten years. That knocked Seattle down to the sixth seed spot, which would see them take on the NFC North winner in the first round of the playoffs. Can the defending NFC champions get back on track? The Cardinals have arguably been the league’s best team this season, and steamrolled the Green Bay Packers last week in a dominant display. With the number one seed potentially in reach, Bruce Arians’ squad has the gleam of the Lombardi trophy in their eyes.
Three Keys to the Game:
Will Arizona be resting starters?
The Cardinals haven’t swept Seattle since 2009, and Bruce Arians would love to add that accolade to Arizona’s record this season. Arians is an aggressive coach who loves to take risks, but he must also have in mind what happened last season. First and second string quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton both went down with injuries, derailing a potential Super Bowl run. Will Arians take the risk and play his starters, even if Carolina locks up the top seed?
Pressuring Russell Wilson
The Rams beat Seattle by generating constant pressure on Russell Wilson, overloading an offensive line that has struggled this year. Without Thomas Rawls or Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks couldn’t run the ball effectively against St. Louis, making it easier for the Rams to sack Wilson four times. With Lynch ruled out of Sunday’s game, the Seahawks will struggle to run the ball again. Tackle Russell Okung and guard J.R. Sweezy did not practice, not great news against a Cardinals defense that had nine sacks last week.
Can the Seahawks handle Arizona’s offense?
The Cardinals have more touchdowns this season than punts; a stat that Arians described as “crazy”. Arizona rank first in total offense, averaging 420.1 yards per game under Carson Palmer. Rookie David Johnson has been electric over the past few weeks and is a potent dual-threat back, averaging 178 total yards per game in the past two games. Defensive end Michael Bennett, Safety Kam Chancellor did not practice, while defensive end Cliff Avril was limited. If they miss the game, then the Seahawks don’t have much of a chance to stop the league’s best offense.
Match-up to watch: Doug Baldwin vs Patrick Peterson
Over the last five weeks, Baldwin has scored 11 touchdowns as Russell Wilson has ravaged the league from the pocket. But he now faces one of this year’s best corners in Patrick Peterson. Peterson may not have great numbers this season, but opposing teams haven’t thrown in his direction often. If he can take Doug Baldwin away that could stifle Seattle’s passing attack enough for the Cardinals to get to Wilson.
Prediction: Arizona Cardinals
If the number one seed is within reach, expect the Cardinals to win. Bruce Arians doesn’t seem like the type of coach who would rest his starters, even if the Cardinals have nothing left to play for. If Arizona can beat Seattle that guarantees a tougher playoff road for the Seahawks, which works in Arizona’s favour.