The Seahawks now get a rematch at CenturyLink Field on Sunday with far more than just redemption or bragging rights on the line.
Arizona handed the Seahawks their only home loss in 2013, winning 17-10 on Dec. 22 to end Seattle’s 14-game home win streak and move within striking distance of the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2009. However, the 10-6 Cardinals eventually missed out.
This time around, with the roles of front-runner and underdog flipped, Arizona looks to further cement itself as the team to beat in the NFC.
“The belief system that everything that we’re doing is working solidified itself up there last year,” coach Bruce Arians said about last year’s matchup in Seattle. “You have to build that camaraderie and what it takes as a team. Each team doesn’t buy into that always, and some guys don’t buy into it. This one has.”
The Cardinals (9-1) own the NFL’s best record, and since losing at Denver in Week 5, have won six straight – their longest streak since stringing seven together in 1974.
Arizona has continued to find success despite a tumultuous stretch of offensive health issues highlighted by the season-ending knee injury to Carson Palmer in Week 10. Filling in for Palmer has been Drew Stanton, who is now 3-1 as a starter this season after posting a career-best 306 passing yards in Sunday’s 14-6 win over Detroit.
“Drew did what we expected from Drew,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of Stanton, who finished the day 21 of 32 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “There was no question he was going to go out there and play well.”
Andre Ellington has been limited by a foot injury all season, and Fitzgerald suffered a sprained MCL on Sunday. Ellington has 624 yards rushing, 356 receiving and five total touchdowns, while Fitzgerald leads the team with 46 receptions for 658 yards.
Both players had been expected to play, but Fitzgerald sat out practice Wednesday and Arians said he was “iffy” for Sunday.
More crucial to Arizona’s success than its offense, which sits close to the league average at 23.7 points per game, is a stout defense led by cornerback Patrick Peterson.
“We’re definitely one of the best in the game,” Peterson said. “I believe we have caught our stride. The last two games, we didn’t give up over 200 yards passing with three or four interceptions. That’s something we’re hoping for the rest of the season.”
The Cardinals rank near the top of the NFL with only 17.6 points allowed per game, and in their past five contests, they’ve allowed fewer than 270 yards four times.
Peterson, who in the last three weeks has held Dallas receiver Dez Bryant and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson to a combined 74 yards, promises to be a challenge for the Seahawks’ less-than-stellar passing attack.
Seattle (6-4) has thrown for more than 200 yards only twice this season, instead depending on the rushing abilities of Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, who has run for a career-high 571 yards. Lynch is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has nine rushing touchdowns – three shy of tying his career best.
The Seahawks’ reliance on the run, which has proved both consistent and effective with Wilson under center, may be forcibly lessened Sunday by Arizona’s front seven. The Cardinals have allowed just one team to rush for more than 100 yards, something Seattle has accomplished nine times.
“These guys are flying high and we have to see if we can find a way to stop them and score on these guys and then we’ll take it to the next one,” coach Pete Carroll said about Arizona. “I’m really excited about the way this thing sets up and I think most people should be with all of the drama still out there about the division.”
Seattle’s rushing attack will be without Max Unger for three to four weeks after the center suffered a high ankle sprain in a 24-20 loss to Kansas City last Sunday.
The Cardinals lead the Seahawks in the NFC West by three games. They have four divisional contests remaining after Sunday, including at home against Seattle on Dec. 21.
“There’s nothing that’s won yet,” Arians said. “You still have to come to work Wednesday or it’s all going to be gone. The only thing it does is it ratchets it up even more because each game’s bigger now.”
The Seahawks are 19-2 at home since 2012 and 14-16 against Arizona all-time.