The marathon that is the NFL regular season comes up to end on Sunday at CenturyLink Field for the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.
Seattle (9-6) punched its ticket to the playoffs for the seventh time in nine seasons under head coach Pete Carroll with an entertaining 38-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Russell Wilson outperformed the national media's favorite shiny new toy in Patrick Mahomes by making key plays with his arm and his legs. The offensive line imposed their will in the second half as the Seahawks ran for 210 yards on the ground as part of a season-high 464 yards of total offense.
Tyler Lockett continued to emerge on the big stage by making big-time catches in critical situations. Doug Baldwin’s return to health also has been an underrated key to success for this offense along with the tight ends continuing to block at a high level. K.J. Wright’s return on defense stabilized things and allowed Seattle to be a bit more aggressive with press coverage. Turnovers were also huge as the Seahawks were plus two in that department.
Arizona (3-12) is a team that is just looking to get across the finish line of the season and go back to the drawing board. The Cardinals lost 31-9 to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday in their home finale. Josh Rosen was outmatched by Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams' defensive line. Rosen completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards, which translates to just 3.8 yards per pass attempt.
C.J. Anderson, who was signed last week to fill in for an ailing Todd Gurley, shredded the Arizona defense for 167 rushing yards. Head coach Steve Wilks and general manager Steve Keim are definitely on the hot seat as team president Michael Bidwill will be looking to make wholesale changes this offseason.
Arizona at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' offense vs. Cardinals' defense
The Seahawks did a good job of being balanced in the first meeting back on Sept. 30, as they posted 160 rushing yards and 160 through the air. Mike Davis ran for 101 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns as Chris Carson missed that game with an injury. This time around look for Carson to get his touches early and for the offensive line to impose their will to wear down the Arizona defense by the second half. Russell Wilson should be able to have his way with the deep ball to Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin to stretch the Cardinals' secondary as they will attack new safety D.J. Swearinger, who was claimed off waivers earlier this week after getting released by the Washington Redskins.
2. Arizona offensive approach
If you are head coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich you might as well empty the tank with the playbook. There is nothing to lose by doing so considering Wilks is expected to be dismissed on Monday. Also, it could be an opportunity to give Josh Rosen to help wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald go out with a bang in what could his final game in the NFL. Fitzgerald was responsible for the lone touchdown last week against the Rams as he threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to David Johnson. So, whether it’s going for it on just about every fourth down or more trick plays, look for Arizona to try everything and anything to test the aggressiveness of the Seahawks' defense. Seattle will try and harass Rosen all afternoon long and aim to cause a couple of early turnovers to put the game away early.
3. Seahawks' mindset
It would be easy for Seattle to take the foot off the gas and just be content with having their playoff spot already secured. However, with the possibility of sliding to the six seed, which will likely result in a trip to Chicago in January, you can expect the Seahawks to do what is necessary to make sure they win this game. A win means Seattle heads to Dallas and the climate-controlled environment of AT&T Stadium. Another advantage of not resting guys will be the chance to maintain a good offensive rhythm and for the defense to gain some additional confidence heading into the playoffs. Finally, it's simply not in the DNA of Pete Carroll to not compete in any game and he will probably only pull guys in the second half if the game gets completely out of hand.
Seattle got off to a so-so start in the first meeting with Arizona, trailing 10-7 at halftime. The Seahawks will need to make some big plays right away and break the spirit of the Cardinals in the first half in order to get their 10th win. Special teams are still a concern for Seattle, as Sebastian Janikowski missed a field goal last week and put forth another suspect effort at a tackle on a kickoff return. Look for Seattle to grind out 30-plus points and cruise to a comfortable win to set up a fun showdown with the Cowboys next weekend in the NFC Wild Card round.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Cardinals 16
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.