It isn’t surprising to see the Seattle Seahawks once again atop their division, and surging towards the playoffs. Somewhat shocking, however, is seeing the Arizona Cardinals in the thick of the playoff hunt.
The Seahawks look to win their fifth straight game and clinch their fourth straight NFC West title on Sunday when they host the Cardinals, who are trying to move closer to their first playoff berth in eight years.
Seattle (8-4) reached the halfway point of the season with a .500 record, but has won four straight games to open up a two-game lead over Arizona. The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West with a win this week by virtue of a better division record.
“Every season’s different. Every team’s different. But here we are again,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said.
While the Seahawks are in their accustomed position in the division, the Cardinals are in an unfamiliar spot. Arizona (6-6), which has not been to the playoffs since 1998, holds the final wild-card spot in the NFC.
The Cardinals have already surpassed their five wins from last season, and have not finished better than 6-10 since moving to the NFC West in 2002.
“It’s a meaningful game in December,” Arizona first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “and if you play games in December that mean something, you’re doing something right.”
The Cardinals beat the Seahawks 23-20 on Sept. 16 on a 42-yard field goal by Neil Rackers by 1 second left, but Arizona has been unable to sweep a season series from Seattle since moving the NFC West. Playing at Qwest Field has been a big reason for that—Seattle has outscored the Cardinals by an average of 14.3 points in winning four straight home games.
The Seahawks, who have won 32 of their last 39 at home, are 5-1 there this season. They’ve also won their last three at home by an average of 19.3 points.
Seattle is coming off a 28-24 win over Philadelphia, as two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu had three of the Seahawks’ four interceptions.
On offense, Matt Hasselbeck was 19-of-34 for 187 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception during Seattle’s winning streak.
Hasselbeck was 22-of-36 for 281 yards and a touchdown in their September loss to the Cardinals, and has thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three games against them.
Shaun Alexander returned last Sunday after missing three games with a sprained knee, and rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Alexander had 18 carries for just 70 yards and a touchdown earlier this season, and has not dominated the Cardinals the way he used to. He’s rushed for 235 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games against the Cardinals after racking up 467 rushing yards and nine TDs in his previous three games against them.
Arizona is allowing an average of just 68.8 rushing yards in its last four games.
The Cardinals defeated Cleveland 27-21 last Sunday to win for the third time in four games. The victory helped erase some bitterness after their 37-31 overtime loss to San Francisco on Nov. 25, a game that ended with Kurt Warner’s fumble in his own end zone.
“After last week, this is kind of a cleansing win for us,” Whisenhunt said. “This certainly puts us in the right frame of mind to push forward.”
Despite the fumble against the 49ers, Warner—playing in place of the injured Matt Leinart—is leading an offense that’s averaging 31.0 points in its last four games. On the season, Arizona ranks third in the NFC with 23.4 points per game.
Warner was 18-of-30 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and an interception last week, and has thrown nine touchdowns and four picks in the last four games. The two-time league MVP may be without two Pro Bowl wide receivers for this contest.
Anquan Boldin didn’t practice Wednesday after dislocating the second toe on his left foot in the third quarter of last Sunday’s win, and Larry Fitzgerald was limited in practice with a left groin strain that kept him out of the Cleveland game.
Their absence made Bryant Johnson the Cardinals’ No. 1 receiver down the stretch during last week, as he caught a team-high six passes for 56 yards. Johnson has caught three TD passes in his last four games against Seattle.
Edgerrin James gained 114 yards on 24 carries last Sunday, his first 100-yard game since running for a season-high 128 yards on 24 attempts in their win over Seattle in September.
While with Indianapolis in 2000, James rushed a career-high 219 yards in the Colts’ 37-24 win over the Seahawks.