Up next: Arizona Cardinals

Posted Dec 17, 2013

The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title with a win Sunday, but they’ll have to do it against a Cardinals team that has won six of its past seven games since losing to the Seahawks in Week 7.

A look at the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks’ Week 16 opponent:

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

Record: 9-5 and third in the NFC West after Sunday’s 37-34 overtime victory against the Titans in Tennessee, the Cardinals’ sixth win in their past seven games

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

Where they rank: No. 19 on offense (25th rushing, 14th passing); No. 7 on defense (1st rushing, 17th passing)

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

Series: Cardinals lead 15-14, but the Seahawks won 34-22 in Arizona in Week 7 and 58-0 at CenturyLink Field in Week 14 last season.

Star power: Larry Fitzgerald. The more things change in the desert – new coach (Bruce Arians), new QB (Carson Palmer), renewed outlook (6-1 in the past seven games) – one thing remains unchanged: Fitzgerald is the best player on this team, and one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. His status for Sunday’s game could be in question after he got a concussion in Sunday’s win over the Titans, but there’s no questioning his importance to the Cardinals’ offense. Fitzgerald has 73 receptions, to lead the team by 15. He has 823 receiving yards, which is second on the team. His 10 receiving touchdowns are one less than the rest of the team combined. This season, Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 800 career receptions in Week 8 against the Atlanta Falcons and the youngest to 11,000 receiving yards in Week 12 against the Indianapolis Colts. 

Unsung hero: Justin Bethel. The backup cornerback is having a Pro Bowl season on special teams. He has 17 coverage tackles and two blocked field goal attempts. Not bad for a sixth-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft out of Presbyterian, where he blocked nine kicks.

On the spot: Tony Jefferson. The Cardinals could start their third free safety in as many games, and it would be Jefferson, a rookie from Oklahoma. Rookie starter Tyrann Mathieu was lost for the season two games ago. He was replaced last week by Rashad Johnson, who got a high ankle sprain against the Titans. With the Cardinals’ run defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL, the Seahawks might look to throw more this week. And that would put Jefferson, well, on the spot.

Burning question: How much will Carson Palmer’s low-grade high ankle sprain affect his mobility against a Seahawks’ pass rush that sacked him seven times during a 34-22 victory in Week 7? And the Cardinals can’t target one of the Seahawks’ pass-rushers, because those seven sacks came from eight players – linemen Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Red Bryant and linebackers Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright. Palmer has been sacked 38 times, with only four other QBs going down more often; while the Seahawks have 40 sacks, which ties for the ninth most in the league.

Numbers to know: 13 and 4, Palmer’s TD passes and interceptions in the past seven games. … 21 and 17, Palmer’s TD passes and interceptions for the season. … 11.5, sacks by John Abraham, which ties him for fourth in the NFL. … 6-1, the Cardinals’ record since Week 8, which ties them for second-best in the league with the Seahawks behind the Panthers (7-1). … 4, interceptions returned for touchdowns, which ties the Cardinals for second in the league. … 121, tackles by linebacker Karlos Dansby. … 112, points scored by the Cardinals in the second quarter.

Familiar faces: Right guard Paul Fanaika (2010-11) backup center Mike Gibson (2009-11) played for the Seahawks, as did pro scout Josh Scobey (2005-06). Backup nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu played at the University of Washington. Running backs coach Stump Mitchell held the same position with the Seahawks (1999-2007), as did area scout Chris Culmer.

The last word: “Playing at Seattle, it’s extremely tough because of the noise and the fact they play extremely well there. So yeah, it’s a great barometer to see how far you’ve come in our division.” – Cardinals first-year coach Bruce Arians