Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: December 23, 2016 11:11 p.m.
SEATTLE — In each of the previous seven meetings between Seattle and Arizona, there's been meaning for both teams within the context of the division race or the NFC playoff picture.
That streak ends Saturday when the Seahawks host the Cardinals.
Seattle (9-4-1) has already wrapped up the NFC West title, guaranteeing at least one home playoff game. The significance for the Seahawks is trying to hold on to the No. 2 seed and a possible first-round bye in the postseason.
And while the Seahawks are gearing up for a fifth straight postseason trip, the Cardinals (5-8-1) are just playing out the final two weeks after winning the division title and reaching the NFC championship game a season ago.
"It's just been an odd year for us," Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said.
Nothing could have topped the oddity of the unsightly 6-6 tie the teams played back in October. That featured the Cardinals moving up and down the field all night against Seattle's weary defense, yet never being able to get into the end zone. The overtime was also memorable for the failures of both kickers, with Chandler Catanzaro missing a 24-yard field goal that could have won it for Arizona, and Steven Hauschka pulling a 28-yard attempt in the closing seconds that could have given Seattle the win.
"It's not fun. You're not a winner, you're not a loser. You're lukewarm," Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said.
If Arizona would have won that night, it would have been just one-game behind in the division. Since the tie, the Cardinals are 2-5, while Seattle has gone 5-3, making that night a clear turning point in the division race.
"I never look back until the end of the season," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "(But) you would have to think so, not winning the game as well as we played; having closed the gap instead of opening the gap."
As it stands, the tie has played into Seattle's benefit, giving it a half-game lead over Detroit for the No. 2 seed in the NFC with two weeks remaining. The formula is simple for the Seahawks: win the final two games and wrap up a first-round playoff bye without needing help from others.
Sounds straightforward. But the Cardinals have given the Seahawks fits, winning two of the last three matchups at CenturyLink Field.
"We've been out ahead the whole time, which I like," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We've had to deal with that and our guys have done fine. We've done a good job with handling that. I'd like to see us finish really well."
Here's what else to watch as the teams meet for the 36th time overall:
Arizona running back David Johnson already has the record for most games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage to start a season at 14. If he can do it again on Saturday night, he will tie Barry Sanders for most consecutive 100-yard games in a season at 15.
Sanders did it in 1997.
The record Johnson really wants might be out of reach. He needs 200 yards receiving to join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players with 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards rushing in a single season.
Johnson has 30 touchdowns in the first 30 games of his pro career, and clearly the respect of the Seahawks. Wright said this week he thinks Johnson should be the league' offensive player of the year.
"I can't think of anybody that's done much more than him," Wright said.
Most of the focus around the Seahawks this week has been on the sideline outburst of cornerback Richard Sherman directed at Carroll and offensive coordinator in last week's win over the Rams. The story line was perpetuated by Sherman's belief that he was not out of line questioning the calls of the offense near the goal line. It also raised the potential of fractures between Seattle's offense and defense that was quickly shot down.
"Every time we have adversity we get tighter. It brings us together," Seattle safety Kam Chancellor said.
LARRY LOVES IT
Larry Fitzgerald is among the few NFL players who relish the opportunity to play in Seattle. The 13-year NFL veteran, who leads the league in receptions and was just chosen to his 10th Pro Bowl, loves the challenge.
"Seattle's hands down my favorite place to play of any place in the National Football League," Fitzgerald said.
"The energy in that building, how good they are defensively," he said. "It's just a great place to play. If you play well there, you can play anywhere."
Seattle is looking to complete the fourth undefeated season at home in franchise history. The Seahawks also went unbeaten at home in 2003, 2005 and 2012.
Seattle is the only undefeated team at home in the NFL this season.