Just one of the two teams that will line up this Saturday at CenturyLink Field will have a chance to improve its positioning in the playoff picture.
The Seahawks (9-4-1), who clinched the NFC West last week, can hold on to the No. 2 seed with wins in their final two regular-season games, or with a little help, clinch it as soon as Monday night. The Cardinals (5-8-1), meanwhile, Seattle's Christmas-Eve foe, had their playoff hopes dashed with a loss last week, and will finish the season with a losing record for the first time since 2012, the year before Bruce Arians took over as head coach.
"It's been a rough year," Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said Wednesday on a conference call with Seattle-area reporters. "Any time you lose eight times it's a rough year. Nothing's gone our way all year it seems. The games we've been accustomed to winning, unfortunately the ball hasn't bounced our way and we haven't been able to get wins in some of the close games. It's just been kind of one of those years. It's really been a struggle. We've fought hard, we've played hard, just kind of one of the years it seems the call goes the other way, the ball bounces the other way.
"Whatever cliche term you want to use it's just kind of been frustrating and not what we expected."
The Cardinals won the division last year with a record of 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship game, but now find themselves readying to play a game while facing the tough reality of knowing the postseason is already out of reach. The difference between last year's successful run and this year's downturn, Arians and Palmer each said, lies in how the team fared in close games. This season, Arizona has gone 3-3-1 in games where it has entered the final quarter leading or trailing by a score or tied, compared to a 5-2 record in those same situations last season. After starting the season 3-3 and playing to a 6-6 tie with the Seahawks at Arizona in Week 7, the Cardinals have gone 2-5 in their last seven games to fall out of playoff contention.
"We've lost the close ones," Arians said. "We had three games on field goals that we didn't make, didn't close out a game when we had it won and lost it. So we've been losing the close ones at the end where we've won them in the past."
Said Palmer: "It seems like the same things have bitten us in the butt, so to speak, just one after another. So really nothing's changed all year. From the first game, season-opener we have a chance to win at the end with a field goal and we end up losing that one, and obviously what happened with the Seahawks at home when we had a chance inside the 5-yard-line and don't get away with a win there. It's just been an odd year for us."
That absence of playoff implications doesn't necessarily mean Arizona will come into the Pacific Northwest lacking motivation to finish the season strong. Arians said his team remains enthusiastic and has "practiced really hard last week and this week," while Palmer called it a "silver lining" that the Cardinals will play their final two games of the year on the road in difficult environments against division opponents.
"We're excited about that," Palmer said of closing the year with games against the Seahawks and Rams. "We still have a lot to play for when you consider the amount of pride that's on the line. So that's what we're playing for right now."
Then there's also the fact that the Cardinals have had success against the Seahawks at home in recent seasons, with Arizona winning two of the past three at CenturyLink Field, including a 39-32 victory the last time the two teams met in Seattle. Palmer, as well as wideout Larry Fitzgerald — as noted in the tweet above, labeled Seattle "their favorite place to play" in the NFL, and will look to spoil the Seahawks' perfect home record this weekend.
"It's obviously by far the most difficult place to play, but there's just so much energy and such a great energy in that stadium," Palmer said. "The fanbase is just spectacular and it's a beautiful stadium. I think it's so cool how it's sitting down there on the water downtown. There's just so much electricity in that stadium, and we enjoy that.
"No doubt it's difficult. There's going to be some offsides and there's going to be some penalties, there's going to be some bad plays because that's what that kind of environment creates, but we really look forward to playing there and we're excited to do it this Saturday."
Get to know the faces of the Arizona Cardinals' offensive and defensive units heading into the team's Week 16 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.