Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks vs Cardinals

Posted Dec 22, 2013

With so much on the line, the 12-2 Seahawks return from playing back-to-back road games to host the 9-5 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday with a chance to clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Greetings from a misty/foggy CenturyLink Field on this 16th Sunday of the NFL season, when the 12-2 Seahawks host the 9-5 Arizona Cardinals with a chance to accomplish so much.

Those championship opportunities that coach Pete Carroll and his players have been talking about all season? Well, this actually is one – for the second time in three weeks. The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a win. They were in this win-so-much-with-one-win situation in Week 14 against the 49ers in San Francisco, when they took a lead late in the fourth quarter only to lose on a last-second field goal.

So, here we go again. Except that this time the Seahawks are playing at home, where they haven’t lost since their home finale in 2011 – a run of 14 consecutive wins at CenturyLink.

The players have said all week that they’re not approaching this game any differently than the previous 14, and that’s good. Because putting too much on this game could prove to be counterproductive. They need to focus only on winning this one game, not everything that victory would accomplish. They need to stay in the moment, as quarterback Russell Wilson likes to say, not let their minds wander to what will be if they can beat the Cardinals.

This is probably a good time to repeat something that Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, a longtime Seahawks nemesis, said this week: “The biggest thing I want people to understand is, (the Seahawks) are beatable.”

That they are. It has happened twice this season – against the Colts in Indianapolis in Week 5 and again two weeks ago in San Francisco. Both times, the Seahawks had leads, only to lose them – and the game.

One other thing people need to understand is, this is not the Cardinals team the Seahawks ran off the field at CenturyLink Filed 58-0 last December; or even they Cardinals team the Seahawks beat 34-22 in Week 7 this season. Since that Seahawks’ victory in the desert, the Cardinals have played the role of Phoenix, winning six of their past seven games to remain in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot.

The Cardinals are chasing the 49ers, Saints and Panthers (all 10-4), just as the 49ers, Saints and Panthers are chasing the Seahawks – for the division title (49ers) and possible home-field advantage in the postseason (49ers, Saints and Panthers).

The Panthers host the Saints on Sunday, after the Saints beat the Panthers in New Orleans two weeks ago. One team will win the NFC South; the other will be a wild-card team. The 49ers find themselves in a reversal of roles from last season, when they jumped to a big lead in the NFC West and hung on – just barely – to win the title as the Seahawks were winning seven of their final eight games. The 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, in the final regular-season game at Candlestick Park; before playing the Cardinals in Arizona next week.

It’s possible that the 49ers could catch the Seahawks, and win the division based on a better record within the division. But that would take the Seahawks losing to the Cardinals and Rams. Unlikely, but why let things get to that handwringing point.

With a win against the Cardinals on Sunday, the only thing that will matter is which team comes to CenturyLink Field in the second round of the playoffs. But then that’s doing exactly what the Seahawks cannot afford to do.

So sit back on this Sunday before Christmas and enjoy, with kickoff and televised coverage on FOX (Q/13) set for 1:05 p.m. PT.

Sunday showdown: Michael Bowie vs Darnell Dockett

Seahawks RG Michael Bowie: Starter J.R. Sweezy is out because of the concussion he got against the Giants last week. That means Bowie is the likely replacement. While he started seven games at right tackle while Breno Giacomini was out with a knee injury, including the Week 8 win over the Cardinals in Arizona, the rookie has been inactive the past four games. The Seahawks have to find a way to get leading rusher Marshawn Lynch to the second level of the No. 1-ranked defense in the league, and that will start with Bowie being able to handle all that Dockett will throw at him.

Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett: This guy has been a force against the Seahawks since Bowie was in elementary school. At 32 and in his 10th NFL season, he has 11 tackles for losses among his 52 tackles and also 4.5 sacks, eight QB pressures and 15 QB hits. So Bowie’s efforts in pass protection also will be crucial. But in run blocking, Bowie needs to be quick off the ball so he can use his size (332 pounds) to wall off, or at least slow the penetration, of the 290-pound Dockett. That, of course, is easier said than done. Just as Sweezy discovered when he made his first NFL start in his first NFL game in the 2012 season opener against the Cardinals and had problems blocking Dockett as the Cardinals won.