He said / she said: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

The Hit Job football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week 17 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (9–6) and the Arizona Cardinals (13–2).

When: 1:25 p.m. PT Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Rogers: The Seahawks are in a position to prepare for a playoff run. They need not concern themselves with late regular season outcomes. Yes, the Seahawks lost to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. Could there have ever been a less consequential loss at home to a division rival for a playoff-bound team? The way the NFC playoff race is shaping up — with the Seahawks a guaranteed Wild Card — the final scores of their week 16 and 17 contests could hardly matter less.

Despite Sunday’s stumble, Seattle remains unquestionably the most dangerous visiting team any NFC opponent could have the misfortune to draw. Five seed, six seed — does not matter to the Seahawks. They’ll either play and be favored to defeat the Washington Redskins, the Green Bay Packers or the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the playoffs.

That’s right. With the way the Packers are playing since their 6–0 start, the Seahawks would walk into Lambeau Field as favorites. If the Vikings should emerge as the NFC North favorites (earning the #3 seed) NFL odds makers need only look back to the week 13 game between the two teams that saw the Vikings buried at home to the tune of 38–7. Should the Seahawks remain as the #5 seed and draw the Redskins, well, the least likely NFL playoff team would not exactly welcome visitors from Seattle with a smile.

First round aside, the Seahawks’ path to the Super Bowl will then be on a course to a couple of rematches with the Carolina Panthers or the Cardinals. They may be a (slightly) better match-up for the Panthers, but given they familiarity they have with the Cardinals, I say it’s a toss-up. Win or lose on Sunday, their playoff fortunes will be unaffected.

That said, the wheels fell off the Seahawks’ running game against the Rams. Apparently, I was a week early in my prognostication that the Seahawks would miss Thomas Rawls. On Sunday, they did. Jess, is this a fatal flaw for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl hopes?


Ridpath: Sunday’s meager 60 rushing yards were a far cry from the 182 yards Seattle’s backs racked up the previous week against the Cleveland Browns. A key factor in this 122-yard swing is, of course, the performance of the offensive line, which suffered from the slowness, confusion, and mistakes that plagued them in the first half of the season. With the absence of starting left tackle Russell Okung (calf), a spate of penalties by his replacement Alvin Bailey and guard J.R. Sweezy, and a couple ugly snaps by center Patrick Lewis, the Seahawks’ understudy running backs were hardly set up for success.

The question is whether this signals a one-game faltering or the start of a disappointing backslide. As you pointed out, the outcome of this week’s game against the Cardinals hardly matters. But if the O-line can’t get their groove back in Phoenix, the Seahawks’ Super Bowl hopes will look decidedly dimmer.

Julian, word on the street is that Marshawn Lynch may return to practice this week. If the Seahawks can stay alive in the post-season until he’s back in action, opposing defenses will have a lot more to worry about — even if the offensive line isn’t in top form. Do you have any predictions about Beast Mode, when we might see him, and what his return will mean for the Seahawks?


Rogers: With no Rawls and a mistake-prone offensive line (a la week 16) the Seahawks are in dire need of the return of Beast Mode. But unless Lynch is truly 100 percent — which I highly doubt — they should withhold his services in this near-meaningless (for the Seahawks) game. A fresh Lynch in the Wild Card round of the playoffs is far more important than an iffy Lynch in a game that may see coach Pete Carroll pulling players early before its conclusion.

The Seahawks would never admit it, but they know week 17 is of little consequence to their ultimate goal of winning another Super Bowl. Sure, they need to wipe away the stink of last week’s stumble at home, but if they’re intent on righting the ship with a season-ending victory, they may be searching for even more answers at Sunday’s end.

Most of the hay is in the barn (Jess, ask your rural Olympia friends what that means — they’ll understand). The Cardinals are a better team than the Seahawks, based on a number of metrics — especially their win/loss records. The Cardinals, who soundly defeated the Seahawks in Seattle (week 10) are currently playing at their peak. Their easy dismantling of the Packers on Sunday suggests nothing less than a top-quality NFL team continuing their upward trajectory. They won the NFC West. It’s their time.

While week 17 is of little consequence in terms of playoff positioning for the Seahawks, they are additionally burdened with the Cardinals being highly motivated to tack on another win this Sunday. With the Carolina Panthers finally losing a game, the Cardinals are in position to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC and its accompanying home field advantage.

Add it up: the better team is more motivated, playing better, playing at home and is not wondering what to do about running back. Prediction: Arizona 30, Seattle 21. If playoff momentum is real, the Seahawks won’t have it. Seattle will be eager to put the murky regular season of 2015 behind them and get to the business of making a playoff run with a possibly healthy Lynch for Wild Card weekend.


Ridpath: Heavy emphasis on the “possibly.” While you’ve been going on about barns and hay, the whispers about Lynch returning to practice this week have gone silent, replaced with phrases like “day to day” and “not quite over the hump yet.” Hopes are high that Beast Mode will be ready to run in the Wild Card game, but hopes won’t get Lynch onto a Seattle-bound plane. Carroll and Co. would be wise to prepare as if they’ll be starting their playoff climb without him. Especially since, as you mention, he’s unlikely to be at 100 percent when (if) he returns.

While I agree that the Seahawks will be eager to call the 2015 regular season done, I’m not sure I’d say they’re any less motivated than the Cardinals to win this week. No one wants to head into the playoffs on a two-game skid, and Sunday’s game is a valuable opportunity for Seattle to reset its mental game and regain its confidence. From where we sit on our hay bales, this game may seem of little consequence. Carroll, however, is looking at it like a playoff game. To do anything else would be a big mistake.

The Seahawks proved in week 10 that they could hold their own against Cardinals: They held the lead early in the fourth quarter and lost by a single touchdown. That was seven weeks ago — when Seattle’s defense was still not at its marauding best. If the Seahawks have any chance at closing their up-and-down regular season with a victory, the defense needs to shut down Carson Palmer. Allowing him the 363 yards he captured by air in week 10 will surely spell victory for Arizona.

Julian, you’re absolutely right when you call the Cardinals the better team. Nonetheless, my gut keeps telling me that Seattle can win this game. And my calculator keeps telling me that this is my last chance to pull ahead of you in our regular-season game-prediction showdown. So, what the hell: Prediction: Seattle 27, Arizona 24.


Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: Last week I suggested the Seahawks would be reverting back to their more typical offensive state of affairs. That appeared to be true as old haunts (ineffective offensive line play, sub-par rushing, little pass rush, too many penalties) were responsible for the Seahawks’ unexpected clunker at home. I also thought the Rams’ passing offense wouldn’t do much, which largely was true: 14 completions for 103 yards.

What he got wrong: The game winner. I’m 10–5 on the season. The Seahawks’ front seven nabbed nary a sack against the Rams at home. I did not expect that.

What she got right: I took a week off to enjoy the holidays with my kids — and to revel in the simple pleasure of watching football without having to write about it. Since I made no game prediction in print, one could say I’m still at 10–4 on the season.

What she got wrong: I took a week off to enjoy the holidays with my kids — allowing my Grinchy colleague free reign to assert that I make a habit of stuffing my face with Christmas cookies and talking with my mouth full. Since I surely would have picked the Seahawks over the Rams had I not left Mr. Grinch to write the column on his own, one could say we’re still even at 10–5.
 
© Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath


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