The Week 16 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (10-4) and Arizona Cardinals (11-3) is one of the most important games in the final two weeks of the NFL regular season. Arizona can clinch the NFC West title and a first-round bye with a victory, while the Seahawks are in position to win the division or miss the playoffs.
Arizona is tied for the best record in football, but they are heavy underdogs at home. The team will try to beat one of the league’s hottest teams with a quarterback that hasn’t made a start in 2014.
Can the Cardinals survive multiple key injuries and stave off the defending Super Bowl champs? Below are four things to watch for in the key divisional matchup.
All eyes will be on Ryan Lindley when the Cardinals try to clinch the NFC West title. Arizona has been able to survive a season-ending injury to Carson Palmer, but having to start Lindley instead of the now-injured Drew Stanton is an immense drop off.
Not only does Lindley have limited playing experience, but the few times he has gotten into a game he hasn’t looked like an NFL quarterback. The San Diego State graduate is still looking for his first touchdown as a pro, having thrown for no scores and seven interceptions in seven career games. Most of his playing time came in 2012, but he didn’t look particularly good in relief of Stanton last week, posting a 47.9 passer rating.
Having won 11 games with multiple quarterbacks this season, the Cardinals have proven that they don’t need their signal caller to put up big numbers. However, Lindley’s high interception rate and low completion percentage calls into question his ability to even be a game manager. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has said Logan Thomas could also see a few snaps, though the rookie went just 1-of-8 in his only appearance.
Seattle Running Game vs. Arizona Defense
Seattle’s ability to score points is predicated on having the NFL’s best rushing attack. They lead the league in rushing yards, and get production from both their No.1 running back and quarterback. Marshawn Lynch’s 1,133 yards on the ground rank third overall, and Russell Wilson’s 754 rushing yards put him in the top 15.
A big rushing day usually means the Seahawks will score a lot of points. In the six games that the team has totaled more than its average of 168.8 rushing yards per game, Seattle is averaging 28.5 points. The team is scoring more than a touchdown less when it doesn’t reach its season average.
Arizona has a chance to slow down Seattle’s running game. The Cardinals rank sixth by allowing 90.4 rushing yards per game, and gave up 124 rushing yards to the Seahawks in Week 12, limiting Lynch to 39 yards on 15 carries. Arizona held DeMarco Murray to 79 yards rushing after he set a record with eight 100-yard games to start the season.
Without a proven starting quarterback, or even a proven backup signal caller, the Cardinals will rely heavily on Williams to move the ball. The rookie has led the team in rushing for the last two weeks, taking over for the injured Andre Ellington.
Ellington struggled this season, never rushing for 100 yards in a game and averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Williams immediately took over and ran for 100 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, helping break a two-game losing streak. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 15 attempts in last week’s win.
When Ellington was at his best, so was Arizona’s offense. The Cardinals have scored 23 points or more seven times this season, including the running back’s six highest rushing performances. Now, more than ever, Arizona needs Williams to continue his strong play. The Seahawks and their No.5 run defense held Arizona to 64 rushing yards in Week 12.
Creating turnovers is important for every team, but doing so has proven to be especially key for Seattle and Arizona. The Seahawks have lost the turnover battle in just two of their 10 wins, while the Cardinals committed more turnovers than their opponent in two of their three defeats.
Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” has produced the top pass defense in the NFL, and their ability to force opposing quarterbacks into making mistakes has been critical. The unit has 10 interceptions in 2014, but none in the team’s four losses. Arizona has the league’s No.3 scoring defense, even though 13 other teams have allowed fewer yards. The Cardinals rely on forcing turnovers, tied for first in the NFC with 25.