NFL Preview - Seattle (10-4) at Arizona (11-3)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A 10-win season didn't get Arizona into the playoffs in 2013, so the club made sure not to chance it this year by going 11-3 and securing a postseason spot with two weeks left to go.
A 12th win on Sunday would put the Cardinals in a much-desired position going into the playoffs, but it won't come easy as they host the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cardinals had to wait a few days after beating the St. Louis Rams 12-6 last Thursday, but they officially locked up their first playoff spot since 2009 when Dallas beat Philadelphia this past Sunday night.
Arizona's 11 wins this season match a franchise record set in 1925, 1948 and 1975, and another win in this game would give the Cardinals their third NFC West title in seven seasons as well as home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
However, a loss to the 10-4 Seahawks would give Seattle the inside lane at winning the division since they picked up a 19-3 win at home over the Cards back on Nov. 23.
The defending Super Bowl champions themselves can secure a playoff spot with a victory today.
As if dealing with the red-hot Seahawks wasn't enough, the Cardinals are down to their third quarterback as Drew Stanton left the win over the Rams with a right knee injury. Ryan Lindley replaced him for his first NFL action since 2012 and completed 4-of-10 pass attempts for 30 yards as Arizona won despite not scoring a touchdown.
The Cards have now won two straight since back-to-back road losses to Seattle and Atlanta, with the setback to the Seahawks halting a six-game winning streak.
Stanton was making his fifth start since Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee on Nov. 9 versus the Rams.
"I'm glad we don't have to play the Rams anymore," Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Both times we played them they banged our quarterbacks up."
At 31 years and 102 days old, Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to compile 900 career receptions after finishing with seven catches for 30 yards versus the Rams, while running backs Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor combined to rush for 136 yards on 29 carries.
Arizona is 7-0 at home this season and are looking to go undefeated in a season at home for the first time in club history, but they'll have to solve the Seahawks first.
Seattle has won six of its past nine versus Arizona, including a 19-3 win on Nov. 23. Stanton threw for 149 yards and was picked off in the loss, while Fitzgerald did not play because of a knee injury.
Russell Wilson threw for 211 yards with a touchdown and also ran for 73 yards on 10 carries for the Seahawks.
Wilson has won 34 games in his career, the most by any quarterback in NFL history over his first three seasons. The latest came this past Sunday, a 17-7 win over San Francisco that knocked the rival 49ers out of the playoff picture.
Wilson was 12-of-24 passing for 168 yards with a 10-yard touchdown throw to rookie Paul Richardson and an interception, while Jermaine Kearse caught five passes for 78 yards for Seattle.
The Seahawks have won four straight, a run that began with the win over the Cardinals, and seven of their last eight overall.
"We're having a great time right now," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. "I think we did great overall the whole game."
Marshawn Lynch ran for 91 yards and a touchdown as Seattle allowed 178 yards to San Francisco in the first half, but clamped down and limited the 49ers to a meager 67 over the final 30 minutes. The Seahawks finished with six sacks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While the Cardinals are hopeful Stanton will return at some point, the club can't be glad to see the Seahawks are on deck for Lindley in his first NFL start since 2012.
As a rookie, Lindley made four starts and six appearances for the Cardinals that season under former head coach Ken Whisenhunt, throwing for 752 yards while getting picked off seven times without a TD pass.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians kept Lindley as his third quarterback last season, but was released in August in favor of Logan Thomas. Lindley joined San Diego's practice squad, but re-signed with the Cardinals when Palmer got hurt.
He'll now move past Thomas and make the start, though Arizona is expected to have a package of plays ready for Thomas this weekend.
Lindley, meanwhile, isn't trying to draw anything from his previous experience with the Cardinals.
"That's night and day. At this point I don't even think about (2012). Just the amount I've learned from both Drew and Carson and the staff, it's a totally different ballgame right now," he said.
Lindley will be facing the league's top-ranked defense, one that is allowing just 272.4 yards per game. Seattle has given up just 27 points and 752 yards over its last four games.
The return of linebacker Bobby Wagner has helped. He has 35 tackles in his last four games, including 10 stops and a sack last weekend, after missing five in a row due to a toe injury.
"We've rushed the passer a lot better and made it harder on the quarterbacks," noted Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. "The whole defense has played better. The pass rush has really been significant."
And despite the switch at quarterback for Arizona, the Seahawks aren't changing things up ahead of this meeting.
"They don't look that different, in terms of the plays they're running and how they're using their personnel," cornerback Richard Sherman told Seattle's website.
"So I think you have to be prepared for them the same way you'd prepare if Carson was playing or if Stanton was in there."
Seattle is second in the NFL with 17.3 points allowed per game, just ahead of Arizona's 17.4 given up per contest.
The Cardinals did sack Wilson seven times in the earlier loss, three by defensive end Calais Campbell, though the Seahawks quarterback threw three touchdown passes in a 34-22 win at Arizona last season.
Lynch, though, has been held to just 110 rushing yards in his past two games versus the Cardinals.
Also, Arizona expects to have talented young safety Tyrann Mathieu available this weekend after he missed the previous two games because of a fractured left thumb. He is likely to play with a large cast covering the ailment.
"I wasn't going to miss this one," Mathieu said on Arizona's website. "I didn't want to miss the last two."
Though yet to be officially ruled out, Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung may not play this weekend due to bruised lung suffered versus the 49ers.
Still, the offensive lineman figures to be a stretch to play and will likely be replaced by Alvin Bailey, who stepped in versus San Francisco.
"He made it through it," Carroll said of Bailey's performance against the Niners. "He had some good plays and some bad plays. He did some good things. He struggled a little bit too. He wasn't on his best game but he made it through it and managed to get through the game."
Carroll added that extra preparation for Bailey this week would be a big help for the second-year player.
Many have expected the Cardinals to fade this season and those doubters will now have to wait until the postseason to see Arizona go away.
The Cards have so far survived the loss of Palmer, but losing Stanton ahead of such a big matchup is another mighty blow. Lindley must now step into the spotlight in primetime, where Arizona is 2-0 this season.
But Seattle is 3-0 this season in primetime football and now resembles the club that won the most recent Super Bowl.
This season's NFL title game is set to take place in Arizona and this Sunday could be a mere warmup to the party again for the Seahawks.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 10
12/21 08:56:10 ET