Few games in Week 16 have the playoff implications of the matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. One team is looking to secure home-field advantage, while the other is trying to earn a postseason berth.
The situation is direr for the visiting Cardinals, who are one game out of the wild card race. At 9-5, they trail the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers by one game. Since the two NFC South teams are set to play each other, a win for Arizona would keep them alive for at least one more week.
The Seahawks have all but locked up the No.1 seed in the conference. The 49ers trail them by two games in the division, but have a small chance of finishing 2013 in first place. Two straight losses for the Seahawks and two consecutive wins for San Francisco would give Seattle the No.5 seed.
The Seahawks didn’t have much trouble in their first meeting with the Cardinals. On the road, they won 34-22 and had an 18-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Now, the Cardinals have the unenviable task of playing at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks are one of three undefeated teams at home, and almost all of those wins have been blowouts. Including victories over the 49ers and Saints, the Seahawks have won by an average of 18.2 points in front of their fans.
Because of their dominance in Seattle, the betting line at most Las Vegas casinos has the Seahawks listed as 10.5-point favorites. Seattle (10-4) and Arizona (9-4-1) have the best records against the point spread in the NFL.
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The Cardinals, though, are not the same team that lost to the Seahawks in Week Seven. In the second half of the season, they’ve played as well as anyone, going 6-1. They’ve taken advantage of an easy schedule, but also managed to beat the Indianapolis Colts by four scores.
“Playing at Seattle, it’s extremely tough because of the noise and the fact they play extremely well there,” head coach Bruce Arians said via azcentral.com. “So yeah, it’s a great barometer to see how far you’ve come in our division. We did a nice job for 3 1/2 quarters in San Francisco and didn’t finish it off.”
The NFC West rivals will pit their strengths up against each other. The Cardinals have turned their season around on the strength of the NFL’s best run defense, which allows 83.2 yards on the ground per game. The Seahawks rely heavily on their rushing attack, with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson combining to total close to 1,600 yards.
Only the Philadelphia Eagles rush for more yards than Seattle, and Arizona held them to 3.1 yards per carry a few weeks ago. Still, the Seahawks don’t plan on deviating from what they do best.
“I think we’re OK,” head coach Pete Carroll told the team’s official website. “We’re still going to pound away at it and keep working, keep getting our numbers and our attempts up there. It’s a matter of breaking one.”
Seattle might not have an easy time running the ball, but it might be even more difficult for the Cardinals to move the ball through the air. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are expected to play, but the quarterback (ankle) and wide receiver (concussion) are both dealing with injuries. The Seahawks have the best passing defense in the NFL, led by Richard Sherman and his six interceptions.
With the top passing and rushing defenses meeting on Sunday, this has the potential to be a very low scoring game. The over/under of 43 is the second-lowest of Week 16.
Betting Odds: Seattle -10.5, 43
Prediction: Seattle 30, Arizona 13