Let the (head) game of intangibles begin.
The Cardinals are excited and enthralled. They are embracing the enormity of this showdown with the Seahawks for what could turn out to be the NFC West championship.
“Oh, yeah, man! You don’t get to play for the damn things very often!” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday.
He scoffed at the approach that this is just another week for his resilient Cardinals (11-3) that could win the division if they beat the defending Super Bowl-champion Seahawks (10-4) Sunday night in the Phoenix suburbs.
Never miss a local story.
Arians, in fact, sounded like he was about to jump through the phone from his spot in the desert. Then again, he often does.
“You know, it’s not like Seattle’s played for them for 100 damn years!” he said of division championships. “So I’m sure they’re embracing it, also.”
Actually, the Seahawks are another e-word this week instead of “embracing the enormity.” It’s the product of playing in games bigger than this over the past three seasons, including the biggest one of all.
“It’s really empowering,” cornerback Richard Sherman said of Seattle’s postseason experience and 5-2 record in the playoffs under coach Pete Carroll. “It gives your team a tremendous amount of confidence knowing that they can go anyplace and they’ll be fine.
“The field’s the same size. The goal posts are the same height. Nothing’s really different. … I don’t think the stadium changes (things for us).
“I mean, maybe if we went on the moon and the gravity changed it’d be something to adapt to.”
Alas, this rematch of this past month’s 19-3 win by the Seahawks in Seattle is going to be played on Earth.
This is the Seahawks’ chance — against a third-string quarterback, recent practice-squad signee Ryan Lindley, who is making his first start in two years — to take over first place in the division. They can seize the inside track to the conference’s top playoff seed entering the regular-season finale next week.
But just as Carroll has instilled since his first week of his first preseason in Seattle in 2010, his players are saying this is yet another weekly “championship opportunity” for the Seahawks.
Carroll thinks the experience the core players of his regime, which consists of two NFC West championships in four years plus a transformative road playoff win at Washington in January 2013, is an edge this week for the Seahawks against a Cardinals team that has made the playoffs for the first time in five years.
“I think it matters. These guys have been through a lot of big games and they’re excited about knowing how hard this one is and the challenge of it,” Carroll said. “That’s what you hope your team feels like and these guys get that.
“We talk throughout the calendar about each game we approach it like it’s a championship game ... this is what this one is all about. This is going to be a great setting. It’s going to be very difficult.
“They couldn’t be more fired up, and they should be like that with the great season that they’ve had. It presents us with the opportunities that we’ve felt before. We got to excel and do all the things like we normally do. Hopefully we’ll do that.”
The Cardinals also seem to be taking their lead from their shoot-from-the-hip coach they lovingly call “B.A.”
“Yeah, you fight your (rear ends) off all year to get into this game, and, sure, you embrace,” Arians said. “But you don’t change how you prepare. It’s still the same process.”
He calls games that way, too.
Despite the fact Arians has gone through Carson Palmer, journeyman veteran backup Drew Stanton and now the mothballed Lindley, Arizona has spent most of the season leading the NFL in passes of 20 yards or more down field. More than 22 percent of all Cardinals’ throws have been that deep, no matter who has been throwing them.
Arians is promising he’s not going to shut down his offense into conservation mode with Lindley, a guy he released earlier this season before signing him back off San Diego’s practice squad; that he won’t rely solely on defense and turnovers.
“No, we don’t do any of that game-management stuff,” Arians told ESPN. “We’re going to sling it.”
“Sling it” with a guy who is starting for the first time since Dec. 23, 2012, and has no touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 51.4 completion rate in his career.
Lindley was Arizona’s sixth-round draft choice in 2012. In his last start two years ago he was 17 for 30 passing for 141 yards with an interception and two sacks in the Cardinals’ 28-13 loss versus Chicago. He was 4 of 10 passing for 30 yards last week in Arizona’s 12-6 win at St. Louis, entering when Stanton hurt knee ligaments (he may miss a month). Arians made the point Lindley was forced to play against the Rams without him having taken any snaps in practice.
Lindley said Wednesday he knows of the talk he can’t possibly beat the Super Bowl champions. Him starting is why the Cardinals are by as much as a 9½-point underdog at home.
“You know, my wife on Monday put a social-media ban on the house this week,” Lindley said.
“Obviously, you hear some of the time — you know, I was watching Sunday Night Football and you see some things — but for me it’s kind of what we preach here in this building: it’s all about how we feel about what we feel about each other inside this facility.
“As long as through this week of practice, and as we go, I continue to get the respect of my teammates then I’ll feel comfortable going out there on Sunday.”
Comfortable isn’t something the Seahawks’ pass rush, which has 16 sacks during their four-game winning streak, and their top-rated defense are planning on making Lindley feel.
It’s what they plan for any other quarterback and opponent on any other Sunday.
“It’s about preparing the same. Don’t get too high ... if you prepare the same way you will get the same results. I mean, it’s been working for Coach Carroll for a while now. Why not buy in?” Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril said.
“He doesn’t change in meeting rooms. He doesn’t come in there and go, ‘Oh, we’ve got a Sunday night game against Arizona this week! We’ve got to prepare for this!’ No. Every week is the same. … We treat all games the same — from the first game to the Super Bowl.”
That Super Bowl experience and the multiple big games could could come in handy Sunday night.
Or maybe not so much.
“That helps,” Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “But at the end of the day the hungrier man is going to win — and that tends to be us.