The Seahawks and Cardinals are both playoff bound, but before they can each begin their quest for an NFC title, they will face each other in a regular-season finale that has seeding implications for both teams. Arizona got the better of the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 10, and has won nine straight games dating back to a Week 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. To find out more about one of the hottest teams in the NFL, we reached out to azcardinals.com's Darren Urban, who answered five questions about Seattle's Week 17 opponent.
Q: With the No. 1 seed still possible, is it safe to assume there will be no resting of star players? In other words, the Seahawks should expect Arizona's best shot, yes?
Urban: Bruce Arians said this week he was going to play this game straight which included his star players. And asked specifically, that included QB Carson Palmer. We'll see what happens. The injury list has been long, so maybe the inactives won't be much of a choice. Arians also said it wouldn't be determined by how the Panthers game was going, so perhaps the cards will go for win No. 14. They know they haven't beaten the Seahawks in Arizona since 2012; I think that's something they are thinking about.
Q: Nine straight wins, a first-round bye locked up, Carson Palmer playing like an MVP candidate—how high will the expectations be on the Cardinals once the playoffs begin?
Urban: Well, if you win 13 or 14 games, I think the expectation is to have a chance to win the Super Bowl, right? Don't think that really matters how the team got there or what the quarterback has done to this point. Palmer knows this is his best chance at a title, although the way he is in shape and playing, he has a few years left.
Q: How big of a boost has the play of rookie David Johnson been this season, and especially of late, given the injuries at running back?
Urban: It's become clear that David Johnson has star potential, and he's the best running back they have – which is good, since the other two main guys have been banged up. Even if everyone was healthy now, Johnson would still be the starter. He can catch the ball like a receiver, he can run powerfully and he has surprising speed in the open field. He's your guy for this season and the future.
Q: How does losing a player of Tyrann Mathieu's caliber change Arizona's defense? Obviously the Cardinals handled Green Bay without him, but just how big of a loss is Mathieu heading into the postseason?
Urban: You can't just replace a Mathieu in terms of playmaking, and it hurts a little of the versatility. But if there is a place the Cardinals have depth (and they have depth a few places) it is the secondary. And remember, given what this offense can do, they don't have to be a great defense. They only have to be good. (Now, if they can play like they did against the Packers, well …)
Q: The Cardinals registered nine sacks against the Packers in Week 16. Just how good of a pass rush are the Seahawks going to have to contend with this week?
Urban: It's an improving pass rush, although rookie Markus Golden, who has been solid as the season has moved on, probably isn't going to play with a knee bruise. When the defensive line rotation is going well, like now, they have a good group. Calais Campbell had his best game of the season last week and he always plays well against Seattle. Dwight Freeney has shown he has something left. The Cards still don't have the best pass rush, but that sack party last week actually tied them with the Seahawks with their season total of 35, and that's not something I expected to type at any point.