8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Seattle -7.5
The penultimate Sunday of the Regular Season comes to a close tonight in the desert, as the decimated Arizona Cardinals play host to the surging Seattle Seahawks. Since Week One, the Cardinals (11-3) have been in first place in the mighty NFC, and have managed to keep a stranglehold on the NFC as a whole up to this point. However, a loss tonight would be Earth-shattering for Bruce Arians and Co., for they would fall to one of the Wild Cards, where they would be in danger of missing the Postseason altogether. After all, this team met that same fate a year ago, despite amassing a 10-6 record; in the loaded NFC West where both Seattle and San Francisco won over ten games apiece, a .625 Win Percentage simply wouldn’t cut it. When these teams met back on November 23rd at Century Link Field in Seattle, the visitors could muster very little offensively in the 19-3 defeat; Arians’ charges were relegated to just 204 total yards, including a mere 64 on twenty carries via the rush, while Drew Stanton struggled to complete 14-of-26 passes for 149 yards and an interception. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles made sure his unit kept the hosts in check, limiting them to 293 yards, with seven sacks for a loss of 42 yards, but a late touchdown toss from Wilson broke the Field Goal fest and put the game out of reach. Enacting revenge would seem a very likely possibility given the fact that tonight’s contest will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Cardinals are undefeated this year (7-0), but they’ll have to do so without the services of Stanton under Center, who sprained his knee in last week’s gritty 12-6 victory at St. Louis.
Of course, Stanton has started eight games, and finished one other, in relief of Carson Palmer, who unfortunately saw his campaign end prematurely after suffering a torn ACL in a 14-6 victory over the Lions back on November 16th. Though his predecessor was undefeated as the starter this season (6-0), Stanton hasn’t particularly been a push-over; the unheralded sixth-year veteran has made the most of his opportunity, going 5-3 as the starter, remarkably keep the team at the summit of an extremely competitive conference. Thus far, he has completed 55.0% of his attempts for 1,711 yards, (6.8 yards/attempt), seven touchdowns and five interceptions, posting 58.0 Total QBR in the process. Now with Stanton listed as Doubtful for tonight’s clash, Arians has been left to work his magic on Ryan Lindley, which will surely test the limits of the coach’s considerable abilities. Lindley will become the fourth Cardinals’ Quarterback to throw a pass this season, which if you remember isn’t quite a good thing; after being drafted by the franchise in the Sixth Round of the 2012 Draft, he started four games (1-3), completing 52.0% of his passes for 125.3 yards per game, no touchdowns and seven interceptions, with a pedestrian 9.27 Total QBR. To put things into proper perspective, he was sacked twelve more times than he found the End Zone. It’s likely too much to ask of Lindley to pick apart a Seahawks’ Defense that ranks among the league’s elite in so many categories, particularly given the Derry of talent around him at the moment; both Wide Reciever Larry Fitzgerald (knee), Left Tackle Jared Veleheer (ankle), and Tailback Kerwynn Williams (knee) are fighting through respective injuries, while the Defense, which has also played at an elite level for much of the campaign, could be without as many as six starters tonight. John Abraham (concussion), Darnell Dockett (knee), and Daryl Washington (suspended) have all missed virtually the entire season, while Tyrann Mathieu (thumb), Larry Foote (knee), and Calais Campbell (hip) all remain in doubt against Seattle. This group has lived off of turnovers (25) and sacks (33) this year, and without their collective presence will be at a severe disadvantage.
Meanwhile, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that has been hotter than the Seahawks (10-4) of late, who have now won seven out of their last eight games, including four straight. Though they need some help, Pete Carroll’s charges have a opportunity to secure the top seed in the NFC once again, with two more wins propelling them to the mountaintop. As we stated earlier, when these teams met earlier this year, Seattle smothered Arizona in their first game after Palmer saw his season come to an abrupt end; the hosts relinquished ujuat 204 yards and a field goal in the 19-3 victory, which ironically kicked off this current winning streak. Drew Stanton was rendered inept for much of the day, throwing an interception and was sacked three times for a loss of yards. Offensively, the Seahawks were from stellar, relying on a quartet of Steve Hauschka field goals until Russell Wilson found Tight End Cooper Helfet for a late touchdown. The mobile Quarerback completed 17-of-22 passes for 211 yards against a very staunch Cardinals’ Defense. However, the difference was the running game, which the hosts used to bludgeon the visitors over the course of the contest to the tune of 124 yards on 29 carries.
After a disappointing start to the season, Pete Caroll implored that his team go back to basics. Management jettisoned the disgruntled Percy Harvin to the dismay of many of his teammates, but the reality is that since his dismissal, the team has really taken off. Dominant defense and running the ball were the keys to their run to a Super Bowl Championship last season, and that has been the hallmarks of their recent string of success over the last two months. Seattle has allowed 17.3 points (2nd overall) on 272.4 total yards (1st overall), including 184.3 against the pass (1st overall) on 5.7 net yards per attempt (6th overall), and another 88.1 yards against the run (5th overall) on 3.6 yards per carry (4th overall). In fact, they’ve limited eight out of their last nine opponents user 300 yards. Furthermore, they’ve finally started to enjoy some big plays; after forcing just five turnovers in the first six games of the season, the Seahawks have logged a wealthy fifteen over the last eight outings. They led the NFL in takeaways in 2013, and have finally rediscovered their touch during the second half of the year. Over the last eight games, Carroll’s charges have yielded yards per game. The other half of the equation has been Marshawn Lynch and the rushing attack which has been like a battering ram over that span. After a disagreement with Management, Lynch was all but thought to be gone once the season ended, particularly after the Harvin departure, but has continued to prove his worth ever since, rushing for nearly 600 yards over the past six games (97.3 years/game).