Originally Published: December 21, 2014 6:02 a.m.
GLENDALE - The Seattle Seahawks storm into Arizona on a four-game winning streak, looking very much like the Super Bowl championship team of a season ago.
The Arizona Cardinals, already assured a playoff berth, send a quarterback who wasn't around a month ago against a fierce Seattle defense ranked No. 1 that has given up a combined 27 points in its last four games.
Tonight's matchup has huge postseason implications.
The Seahawks (10-4) can close in on another NFC West title with a victory. The Cardinals (11-3) can clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs - including the Super Bowl should they get there.
Seattle loses and there's a chance, however slight, that the Seahawks don't even make the playoffs. Arizona loses and the Cardinals probably are a wild-card team.
There are plenty of doubters about Arizona, even though the Cardinals have the NFC's best record. Don't count the Seahawks among them.
"You definitely respect a team that's won as many games as they've won," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They don't just win games by luck. They've done a lot of good things, but we feel like we're on a roll and we're going to keep that roll going."
With Arizona's quarterback issues, Seattle is an 8-point favorite on the road in what Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald calls the biggest regular-season game of his career.
"It doesn't bother me," Fitzgerald said. "It's not about what people think. It's about going out there and playing football, playing fast and executing."
Arizona has persevered through a litany of injuries, most recently to Drew Stanton, who took over at quarterback when Carson Palmer went down to a season-ending knee injury. With Stanton out with a sprained right knee, coach Bruce Arians has turned to Ryan Lindley, signed from the San Diego practice squad after Palmer was hurt.
Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett doesn't know much about Lindley.
"Just that he's a quarterback, and one of my favorite meals is quarterback," Bennett said.
Lindley got the nod over rookie Logan Thomas, although Arians has said he would have a package for Thomas and might use both quarterbacks.
"I think Bruce did a really good job of letting that out," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, "because he made us have to go ahead and think about all the stuff that he (Thomas) could do as well."
Stanton, too, surprised the team by practicing in limited action late last week and he's expected to suit up today.
Lindley, in his third NFL season, was Arizona's No. 3 quarterback last season and didn't play. He lost out to Thomas for the No. 3 job in the preseason.
Lindley had four inglorious starts in his rookie season, with seven interceptions and no touchdowns. He holds the dubious record of most pass attempts (182) without a touchdown in NFL history.
"But everybody else is their starters," Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said. "They still have the same O-line ... they still have all their guys, they still have Larry, who is a heck of a wide receiver. I think anybody could throw to him and he'll catch it."
Some things to watch when the Seahawks meet the Cardinals:
When the teams met in Seattle a month ago, and the Seahawks won 19-3, Arizona held Marshawn Lynch to 39 yards rushing and sacked Russell Wilson seven times. But Wilson slipped away from the pass rush for some big plays, too. The Seattle quarterback rushed for 73 yards, 40 on one play in the drive for the Seahawks' lone touchdown.
"He's kind of like Houdini," Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell said. "He can make people miss with the best of them. The big thing is for everybody to continue to rush him and try to swarm-tackle."
The Seahawks' defense has put up some incredible numbers during the four-game winning streak.
Seattle has allowed 27 points, 752 yards (188 per game), 51 first downs (12.8 per game), 325 yards rushing (81.3 per game), 427 yards passing (106.8 per game. And Seattle has 16 sacks.
After missing five games with a toe injury, Wagner has 35 tackles in the last four games.
ARIZONA ON THE GROUND:
The Cardinals' moribund rushing game came alive the last two weeks behind the surprising play of Kerwynn Williams, who was elevated from the Arizona practice squad.
The Cardinals rushed for 141 yards in their win over Kansas City and, last Thursday night, 143 in their victory at St. Louis.
Williams has 175 yards in 25 carries, an average of 7 yards per attempt.
Arizona is 7-0 at home this season. But there figure to be a lot of Seattle fans in the crowd as some Cardinals season-ticket holders opted to sell theirs for this game to make a handsome profit.
"I do remember the game here last year," Wagner said. "I think there was a point where I felt like I heard Seahawks fans louder than their fans."
Seattle won that game 34-22, one of only two losses at home for Arizona since Arians took over.
If Arizona has a chance, it probably will need significant help from its opportunistic defense. The Cardinals have a plus-12 turnover margin, tied for second best in the NFL. Their defense has scored nine touchdowns, most in the league.