After setting a franchise record for road wins during the regular season, the Seattle Seahawks return home for their final two games, starting with the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Seattle (11-3) is currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket after last week's dramatic 29-22 road win by Atlanta over San Francisco. The Seahawks will look to maintain their spot by finishing out the season series with the NFC West rival Cardinals. These two teams meet back in Week 4 in Glendale. Seattle jumped out to a 17-point lead before cruising to a 27-10 victory.
It was a rare fast start for the Seahawks last Sunday on the road against Carolina, as the offense scored three touchdowns on its first three possessions. That 20-7 lead (Jason Myers missed the PAT after the first TD) was vital as Seattle outlasted the Panthers 30-24 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Russell Wilson got back on track as he threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Carson had another big game with 133 rushing yards and two scores on 24 carries. What was even more encouraging to see was Tyler Lockett looking like his old self with eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. The defense was picked up by a couple of well-timed interceptions by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Attrition was an issue in this game for the Seattle defense as it got to a point where that side of the ball was down six starters in the second half, which contributed to the Panthers picking up a couple of late touchdowns. The win was the Seahawks' franchise-record seventh road victory during the regular season.
Arizona (4-9-1) also got into the win column last week, soundly beating Cleveland 38-24 in the Cardinals' final home game. The victory snapped a six-game losing streak during which Kliff Kingsbury's team was competitive for the most part as four of the six losses were by single digits. Kenyan Drake ran wild on the Browns, finishing with 137 yards and four touchdowns. Kyler Murray was solid (275 total yards, TD, INT, no sacks) and the defense forced a pair of turnovers and limited the damage done by Baker Mayfield and company.
Now the Cardinals will try and build on that win by ending a three-game losing streak to Seattle, which also would serve as a potentially damaging blow to the Seahawks' playoff positioning.
Arizona at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 22 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' defense vs. Kenyan Drake
The ability to create turnovers has been a game-changer in 2019 for Seattle's defense. The Seahawks are plus-13 in turnover margin in part due to 32 takeaways generated. New England and Pittsburgh are the only two teams with more this season. Unfortunately, injuries are a concern for Seattle's defense this week, as seven starters sat out practice on Thursday and four are listed as either Doubtful or Questionable for Sunday. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and safety Quandre Diggs are unlikely to play after missing practice all week. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerback Shaquill Griffin will be game-time decisions, according to head coach Pete Carroll.
The good news is that Ziggy Ansah practiced in full throughout this week and he will play, and so will linebacker Bobby Wagner despite spraining his ankle last week. Ansah will give a boost to the defensive line, which has gotten solid contributions from unsung second-year guys Rasheem Green and Poona Ford. Green leads the Seahawks with four sacks and Ford has done a nice job causing havoc in the backfield all year long.
All of these injuries are important because Seattle will be tasked with trying to contain Drake, who is coming off of a huge game against Cleveland. Even with David Johnson in the same backfield, it appears that Drake has taken over the lead role, which makes stopping him one of the Seahawks' top priorities on Sunday. If the Seahawks can win the battle up front and limit big plays on the ground that will put more pressure on Kyler Murray and Arizona's inconsistent passing attack.
2. Fast start for the Seattle offense
Russell Wilson and the Seahawk offense need to put together another fast start this week against a vulnerable defense. The value of a fast start this Sunday is twofold. First, it will continue to build confidence for the offense heading into the playoffs. It also will allow Seattle to impose its will on a young Cardinals team that has experienced its share of growing pains this season. Expect Wilson to take a few deep shots to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to stress the Arizona secondary. This will open things up for the offensive line to blow open holes for Chris Carson to wear down the Cardinals' defense in the second half. The loss of Josh Gordon to another suspension by the NFL for PEDs and substance abuse is not a good thing, but his production should be made up by Malik Turner, David Moore and others moving forward.
3. Kyler Murray's first visit to the Seattle
Most young quarterbacks have their share of issues when they make their first trip to Seattle and play in such a loud, hostile environment. In college, Murray had the experience of playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, which is highly comparable from a noise perspective. Kingsbury is going to have to protect Murray early on by giving him easy completions that will allow him to get the ball out quickly. Thus, it will be crucial for Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk to win their one-on-one battles against the Seahawks secondary. The ability to get Murray going early will slow down the pass rush and give him some opportunities to make plays with his legs. One of the worst things that can happen to Murray this week is to have an early turnover or two, which will only fuel the roar of the 12s.
The potential of home-field advantage in the playoffs should be a highly motivational thing for the Seahawks as they look to secure that along with a chance to win the NFC West in Week 17. This has been a very resilient Seattle team that continues to find ways to win even with multiple injuries to key players on defense. You should see another fast start for the second week in a row by Seattle on offense, but this time the Seahawks will not let Arizona back into the game and pull away for a comfortable win.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Cardinals 16
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.