On paper, tomorrow's Week 14 matchup against the Cardinals looks like an easy victory. Since starting hot at 4-0, the Arizona Cardinals have bumped into a slew of problems on both sides of the ball and slipped into a nightmare scenario, losing their last eight straight. Coach Ken Whishenhunt inexplicably benched QB John Skelton in Week 12 in favor of rookie Ryan Lindley, with results that weren't much better than the Max Hall experiment a couple of years back. Though the Cardinals have still remained effective on defense, ranking second in the league in interceptions, the offense has not been able to convert on any of the opportunities it's been given. At times, those have been on a silver platter.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks are surging. Despite an ugly last-minute loss in Miami in Week 13, they bounced back strong in Chicago last week and pulled out an overtime win. Russell Wilson is looking more like a seasoned veteran than a rookie. Marshawn Lynch is still finding ways to break tackles and drag defenders for extra yardage on nearly every run. The defense, though underperforming on the road, has played very well in every home game this season, ranking fifth overall, and has feasted on opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Tom Brady about that.
So why does Sunday's matchup with a reeling division rival make me slightly nervous? Here are some things that worry me.
- The Seahawks have a history of playing down to their competition.
- The Cardinals' defense still managed to pick off Matt Ryan five times a few weeks ago (but still lost, somehow.)
- CB Brandon Browner begins his four-game suspension tomorrow.
- Larry Fitzgerald is still a weapon, and has torched this unit in the past with reckless abandon (even with shaky QB play.)
- With resources devoted more toward stopping Fitzgerald, a No.2 WR such as Andre Roberts could emerge and surprise the Hawks' defense. Remember TItus Young in Detroit? Yeah, that happened.
Of course, this could all be a false alarm if the Seahawks remember who they are tomorrow. This offense has arisen from stagnant and sloppy into smooth and solid. John Skelton? Really? He may not be Ryan Lindley, but he sure as hell isn't Tom Brady either. This is a division game the Seahawks know they have to win to keep the momentum going as the regular season winds down. Though offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will likely draw up a more conservative, run-heavy approach tomorrow in light of the Cardinals' skilled secondary, that doesn't mean Russell Wilson is suddenly going to crack under pressure.
Here's what I'm confident about going into tomorrow:
- The 12th Man will be in full effect.
- Since Week 8 -- the official halfway mark for the regular season -- the Seahawks have scored at least 21 points in every game. The Cardinals have given up 31, 23, and 31 points in three of their past four games; two of those being road games (Green Bay, Atlanta.) So even though they get a lot of interceptions, they still give up touchdowns.
- The Cardinals rank 24th in run defense, and the Seahawks rank 7th overall in rushing yards. Look for the Beast to be unleashed tomorrow afternoon.
- Since their Week 1 loss in Arizona, the Seahawks have developed and ascended overall, while the Cardinals have reeled since starting off hot.
So do we have anything to worry about tomorrow? We can only wait and see. But no matter the outcome, it all comes down to the quarterback -- and that's the key area the Seahawks hold an advantage over Arizona in this matchup.
Final score prediction: Seattle 20, Arizona 10.