NFC West teams looking to get back on the winning track will meet on Sunday as Arizona and Seattle meet for the first time this season. The Cardinals (8-2) lead the division by a game over the Rams while the Seahawks (3-6) have fallen well behind. The more pressing issue for both teams is fixing their respective offenses after combining for 10 points last Sunday.
Arizona played without quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a second straight game, and it showed last week at home against Carolina. The Cardinals lost 34-10 in a game that wasn't that close. Colt McCoy completed 11 of 20 passes for 107 yards and an interception before leaving the game with an injury. James Conner and Eno Benjamin didn't offer much support either, combining for 61 rushing yards on 16 carries. The defense couldn't stop Christian McCaffrey (161 yards from scrimmage), and Cam Newton needed just nine snaps to produce two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) in his first game back with the Panthers. Carolina dominated time of possession (37:42) while holding Arizona to 169 total yards.
Meanwhile, Seattle made the wrong kind of history as the Seahawks were shut out for the first time with Russell Wilson as the starter (149 games), falling 17-0 in Green Bay. It was Wilson's first game back after fracturing his finger in Week 5, and whether it was the frigid conditions at Lambeau Field or rust, you could tell he wasn't entirely comfortable with his surgically repaired digit. Besides being able to do nothing on offense, left tackle Duane Brown suffered a hip injury and wide receiver DK Metcalf was ejected late in the fourth quarter for an altercation (and then brought even more unwanted attention on himself by trying to re-enter the game following his exclusion). Lack of discipline has been an issue with this team, and it reared its ugly head with Metcalf as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Carlos Dunlap II for throwing a shoe. These avoidable plays overshadowed a solid effort from the defense that kept Seattle in the game heading into the fourth quarter.
Arizona (8-2) at Seattle (3-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 21 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Cardinals -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seattle needs more out of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner
These are unchartered waters for Seattle, which is currently in last place in the NFC West. Wilson and Wagner are the two highest-paid players on the team and the leaders for their respective sides of the ball, and neither one did enough to give the Seahawks a legit shot of beating Green Bay last Sunday. The rest of the team feeds off these two guys and needs them both to hit the ground running from the opening snap this Sunday. Wilson should perform better with more time to adjust to the surgically repaired finger, and he'll be playing at home. Wagner collected just eight tackles against the Packers, only the third time this season that he failed to break double figures. Wagner is third in the league in tackles (101), but Seattle needs every game-changing play he can provide with the team so far behind in the chase for one of the three wild-card berths.
2. Cardinals' defense
After starting the season 7-0, Arizona has lost two of its last three games. Certainly, the slump can be attributed to injuries to Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins (as well as J.J. Watt, who is out for the season), but if the Cardinals want to be considered a legitimate contender to win the NFC, they must clean things up on defense. You can't expect to compete for a Super Bowl appearance when you allow 34 points to the quarterback combination of P.J. Walker and Cam Newton at home. Murray will be a game-time decision to play on Sunday (Hopkins has already been ruled out), but even if he returns it's not fair to put everything entirely on his shoulders, especially since he won't be 100 percent.
Arizona should be plenty familiar with what Seattle will try and do, so it's up to the defense to executive the game plan and dictate how this one plays out. The Seahawks' offensive line could be particularly vulnerable if Brown isn't able to play. The Cardinals will need to take advantage of this and get as many hits on Wilson as possible, even if it doesn't result in a sack. They also must slow down the running game and win the one-on-one matchups with Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Safeties Budda Baker and Byron Murphy Jr.16 are former Washington Huskies who were fan favorites in college, so both will be fired up to return to Seattle.
3. Which Seahawks offense is going to show up?
Seattle misses Chris Carson, who will miss the remainder of the season after deciding on surgery to repair the damage caused by the neck injury he suffered in Week 4, as Pete Carroll's preferred offensive approach is built on running the ball. The Seahawks managed 75 rushing yards on 16 attempts last week against Green Bay. Maintaining drives will be of critical importance on Sunday, especially if Murray returns, as one of the ways to slow down Arizona's offense is to keep the ball away from the Cardinals. Seattle had the ball for only 21 minutes last week. On the other side, the Packers ran 70 plays, which contributed to the Seahawks' defense wearing down. Green Bay's only two touchdowns in the game came in the fourth quarter, the last right after the two-minute warning. Seattle's offense can't leave the defense out to dry like that again, especially if Murray picks up where he left off prior to injuring his ankle.
Murray's health notwithstanding, this game has the feel of an uphill battle for the Seahawks. Even when at full strength, Seattle always has its issues at home against Arizona. But it also is hard to envision Wilson performing as poorly as he did last week, which is why this game will remain competitive into the second half. The difference will be the Cardinals' more balanced attack on offense, which will wear down the Seahawks' defense. Arizona reasserts its control in the NFC West while Seattle falls a game further behind in the playoff chase.