Welcome to the What-Could-Have-Been Bowl.
If things had gone differently last week – and earlier this season – the Seahawks and Cardinals would be meeting Sunday with the winner advancing to the NFL playoffs as a wild-card team.
But that dream scenario was dashed last Saturday as, in order, the Seahawks lost the NFC West Champion San Francisco 49ers; the Cardinals fell to the Cincinnati Bengals; and the Detroit Lions defeated the San Diego Chargers.
Before the nattering nabobs of negativity chime in, the Seahawks and Cardinals also could have avoided “playing for pride” in their finale by not starting the season 2-6 and 1-6, respectively.
That, however, does not mean that these division rivals have nothing to play for on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. To the victor goes an 8-8 record, and completion of an about-face second half that has been as impressive as their almost-matching first halves were depressing.
The winner also will secure second place in a division that was won by either the Seahawks (2004-07 and 2010) or Cardinals (2008-09) the past seven seasons.
“Heck yeah, we want to win a football game,” is the way Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it to begin this final week of his second season as coach. “There’s no hesitation. There’s no other agenda at all but to win a football game.
“This would be great to get to 8-8 and leave them out of it. That’d be great to do that.”
That was Carroll on Monday, but he has hammered home the same message – with slight variations on the theme – every time he has talked to the media or his players all week.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has been preaching from the same script.
“It’s a division game against two teams that have a lot of things to be excited about for next year,” Whisenhunt said Wednesday during a conference-call interview. “So if you can’t get up for that type of game, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
For the Seahawks, reaching 8-8 would be a one-game improvement over their record from last year, when they became the first team in NFL history to win their division with a losing record. It also would be the Seahawks’ first non-losing record since 2007, as they went 4-12 in 2008 and 5-11 in 2009.
“It’s not hard to get up for this game at all, because I think we’re a finishing team,” strong safety
“So we’re going into this game as a team that wants to finish, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Added right tackle
“Another theme of the whole system here is to finish strong, so we’re going to finish this week.”
The Cardinals want this game for similar reasons. After going 10-6 in 2009, the Cardinals were 5-11 last season and then started 1-6 this season.
“It’s kind of frustrating to do all that work and to go on that run and to not have a shot to get into the playoffs the last week of the year, and I’m sure Seattle and everyone over there feels the same way,” Cardinals quarterback John Skelton said. “A lot of it is just pride right now. Obviously, 7-9 and 8-8 are big differences.
“No one wants to have a losing record and I think a lot of guys on both teams are going to put it all on the line and try to finish on a high note.”