The 2016 NFL season isn’t even halfway complete, but the Seattle Seahawks have a chance to take a big step towards wrapping up the NFC West in Week 7. They’ll visit the Arizona Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football,” hoping to take a commanding lead in the division.
Tied with the Los Angeles Rams for second place, Arizona is 1.5 games behind Seattle for first place. But even though the Rams have the same record as the Cardinals—L.A. is 2-1 in the division with a win in Arizona—the NFC West is really a two-team race. The division will be decided by either the Seahawks or Cardinals, and a potential 2.5-game lead for a team as good as Seattle would be extremely difficult to overcome.
With the Cardinals set to play at home, they are favored to pull within a half-game of their division rivals. The betting line is two points at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, via OddsShark, and the over/under is 43.5.
Through six weeks, there haven’t been many surprises in the NFC West. The Seahawks are top Super Bowl contenders like they’ve been the past few years, the 49ers are still the division's worst team, and Jeff Fisher’s Rams are a .500 team yet again. But it hasn’t been as easy to get a read on the Cardinals.
After winning the division with a 13-3 record last year, the Cardinals have suffered three losses as favorites. In their three victories, Arizona has been dominant, winning by an average of more than 23 points.
The Cardinals have evened up their record after a 1-3 start by taking advantage of inferior competition. They’ve beaten teams with a combined 4-13 record, and Arizona is winless against teams that don’t have losing records.
That’s not to say that the Cardinals aren’t a potential playoff team. Arizona has won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons in large part because of their defense, and the unit has not taken a step back in 2016. The Cardinals are tied for fourth in total defense, winning two straight games on the strength of an elite pass defense.
Offensively, however, Arizona isn’t quite the same team. With wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, arguably a top-two running back, Carson Palmer has some of the league’s best weapons at his disposal. But the quarterback isn’t having anywhere near the MVP-caliber season that he had a year ago, making the Cardinals beatable at home.
Palmer ranks 24th in the NFL with an 84.1 passer rating, and he’s in the bottom half of the league in touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Buffalo Bills are the only one of Arizona’s opponents in the first six weeks that rank in the top 10 in opposing passer rating, and they picked Palmer off four times. Only three teams allow a lower passer rating than Seattle, and Palmer could have trouble with the Seahawks’ vaunted secondary.
Most of Palmer’s recent struggles have been limited to a few games. In four of his five starts this season, the quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception. In this year’s game against the Bills and last year’s NFC Championship Game, Palmer has combined to throw for just one score and eight interceptions. The signal caller’s tendency to have dreadful performances against top defenses could rear its ugly head against Seattle, who has had Palmer’s number.
In four games against the Seahawks since 2013, Palmer has thrown six touchdowns and eight interceptions. In three of those games, Palmer has posted a passer rating of 70.4 or worse, throwing for an average of 188.3 yards.
Coming off a game against the NFL’s No.1 ranked offense, Seattle held its own, allowing 24 points in a two-point victory. Prior to that contest, the Seahawks hadn’t allowed more than 18 points in any game. No NFL team surrenders fewer total yards per game than Seattle.
Seattle won’t need big numbers from Russell Wilson, who's played extremely well against Arizona in recent seasons. In three of his four games against the Cardinals since 2014, Wilson has posted a passer rating of 121.6 or better, totaling seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Wilson appears to have recovered from his early-season leg injuries. He’s helped the Seahawks average 30 points over the last three games, as compared to the 15 points Seattle combined to score in the first two weeks.
Between the way Wilson and the defense are playing, as well as their recent history against Arizona, Seattle has a good chance to create even more distance between themselves and the Cardinals in the NFC West.
Prediction: Seattle over Arizona, 20-17