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Five matchups to watch: Seahawks vs. Cardinals

Posted Dec 21, 2013

The Seahawks have a chance to wrap up the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs Sunday, but they’ll have to beat a Cardinals team that has won six of its past seven games to do it.

A look at the Seahawks’ Week 16 game against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, including five matchups that could impact the outcome:

When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m., CenturyLink Field

Records: Seahawks 12-2 and first in the NFC West after last week’s 23-0 victory over the New York Giants; Cardinals 9-5 and third in the NFC West after last week’s 37-24 overtime victory against the Titans in Tennessee

Playoff implications: The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win; the Cardinals are currently the No. 7 seed and need a win to remain in the playoff picture as they try to overtake the 49ers, Saints or Panthers (all 10-4) for a wild-card spot

TV: FOX (Q/13), with Chris Myers, Tim Ryan and Jennifer Hale

Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 KIRO FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller

Rest of the West: Falcons at 49ers on Monday night; Buccaneers at Rams (6-8)

Matchup microscope

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs. the Cardinals’ No. 1-ranked run defense: When these teams met in the desert in Week 7, Lynch ran for 91 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ 33-22 victory. Since then, the Cardinals have allowed only two teams to run for that many yards – the Eagles (105 in Week 13) and the Rams (100 in Week 14) – and yielded only two rushing TDs. That’s a big reason why they ascended to the No. 1 spot in the league in average rushing yards allowed (83.2) and are No. 2 in average yards per carried allowed (3.6). In his last four games, Lynch has averaged 54.5 rushing yards. But the Seahawks must be able to run the ball, and find a way to get Lynch to the second level. “We’re going against the best rushing defense in the NFL in this game, so that’s going to be a great matchup for us,” coach Pete Carroll said. “But we’re still going to pound away at it.”

One to watch

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer vs. the Seahawks’ pass rush: In Week 7, eight Seahawks combined to sack Palmer seven times. Sunday, he’ll be playing on an ankle he sprained in last week’s game. So the Seahawks’ pass rush needs to be even more relentless. That will start with stopping the Cardinals’ improved running game that now features rookie Andre Ellington (5.9-yard average on 94 carries) as well as Rashard Mendenhall (eight rushing touchdowns), and getting Palmer into third-and-long situations where the Seahawks can turn things over to the nickel line of ends Cliff Avril (8.5 sacks) and Chris Clemons (4.5) and tackles Michael Bennett (7.5) and Clinton McDonald (4.5).

Fun to watch

Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald: The Cardinals’ All-World receiver is questionable because of the concussion he got in last week’s game against the Titans. But it’s also out of the question to think that Fitzgerald won’t do everything possible to be on the field in a game that means this much to his team. In the Seahawks’ 58-0 romp at CenturyLink Field last December, Sherman intercepted two passes and returned one 19 yards for a touchdown, while Fitzgerald caught one pass for 2 yards despite being targeted 11 times. This is a matchup both players enjoy, and one that Fitzgerald admits has gone Sherman’s way the past three times they’ve played.

One tough task

Seahawks RG Michael Bowie vs. Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett: If Bowie does get the start for a concussed J.R. Sweezy, the rookie will have his hands full – literally – with Dockett, who has been disrupting the Seahawks’ offense since Bowie was in elementary school. The Cardinals used inside pressure in getting to QB Russell Wilson for a pair of fumble-forcing sacks in the Seahawks’ Week 7 win in the desert. Bowie started at right tackle for an injured Breno Giacomini in that game, but he’s been inactive the past four games.  

Don’t overlook

Russell Wilson: It’s gotten to the point where nothing the Seahawks’ second-year quarterback does should come as a surprise. Since his first NFL start last season, a 20-16 loss to the Cardinals in Arizona in the opener, Wilson has done nothing but improve. And win. His 23 victories are the most by a QB in his first two seasons. He has never lost at CenturyLink Field (14-0). His winning percentage (.767, 23-7) is second only to Tom Brady (.772, 146-43) among active NFL quarterbacks. The Seahawks need this game to accomplish so many things, so they need Wilson to continue accomplishing so many things.

Worth noting

The Cardinals lead the series 15-14, but the Seahawks have a two-game winning streak. … In addition to winning the NFC West, a victory by the Seahawks also would tie the 2005 Super Bowl team for most victories in a season (13). … The Seahawks (2004-07 and 2010) and Cardinals (2008 and 2009) combined to win the NFC West for seven consecutive seasons before the 49ers won it the past two. … Each team has scored its most points in the second quarter; 131 for the Seahawks and 112 for the Cardinals. … The Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense, which also has allowed the fewest points in the league, has yielded 105 points in the second quarter – compared to 22 in the first, 35 in the third and 43 in the fourth. … Sherman’s six interceptions share the league lead and the Seahawks lead the NFL with 22. … MLB Bobby Wagner (99) and FS Earl Thomas (89) lead the Seahawks in tackles. … ILB Karlos Dansby lead the Cardinals with 127 tackles, while DE John Abraham has a team-high 11.5 sacks.