SEATTLE — With the road schedule finally wrapped up, Pete Carroll joked he was looking forward to the Seahawks’ home stand.
What Carroll didn’t specify: Was he referencing Seattle’s final two games of the regular season, or the possibility the Seahawks won’t have to leave the Pacific Northwest until the Super Bowl if they can knock off Arizona today?
“That’s the only chance we got and we’re going to go for it this week. … This is a championship matchup and we’re going to do everything we can to go get it done,” Carroll said.
For a change, Carroll’s usual mantra that has kept the Seahawks focused throughout a season of rising expectations comes with something tangible this week. What Seattle (12-2) can earn on Sunday would only reinforce the idea it is the favorite in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl.
A win over the Cardinals will give Seattle the NFC West title, a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage for the postseason in a venue where the Seahawks have not lost in nearly two calendar years.
“Every game this year we’ve been taking as a championship opportunity, so when games like this come around we’ll be ready for it,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said.
The Cardinals (9-5) have just as much as stake. Arizona must win its final two games and get help from others to have a chance at reaching the playoffs. That would complete a massive turnaround from where the Cardinals were after getting manhandled by Seattle 34-22 in Week 7. Arizona has won six of seven since behind the best run defense in the NFL and improved play from quarterback Carson Palmer.
“I think as the season has progressed there has been more of a belief that you’re going to win each week, and just kind of deep down you know it,” Palmer said.
Here are some things to watch as Seattle tries to wrap up a second division title in Carroll’s tenure, while the Cardinals seek to continue their late charge:
TRIPLE THREAT: Seattle’s defense is on the cusp of a possible triple of league dominance. The Seahawks are ranked No. 1 in total defense (279.5 yards per game allowed), No. 1 in scoring defense (14.6 points per game) and No. 2 in total takeaways (33). They have held two of their last three opponents to less than 200 yards total offense.
PROTECT PALMER: The low point for Arizona’s offense and its ability to protect Palmer came against Seattle. Palmer was sacked seven times by eight Seahawks’ defenders. It was the most Palmer has ever been sacked.
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH: While Seattle may have the No. 1 overall defense, the best run defense in the league belongs to the Cardinals. Arizona has allowed only one 100-yard rusher this season — and just barely. Frank Gore finished with 101 yards rushing in Week 6. The Cardinals are allowing 83.2 yards per game on the ground.
BAD MEMORIES: Arizona’s last visit to Seattle became the most lopsided afternoon in Cardinals history. Arizona capped a nine-game losing streak with a 58-0 rout by the Seahawks. Seattle led 38-0 at halftime, got an interception return for a touchdown and recovered a muffed punt for another score as part of a 28-point second quarter.