Christmas Eve game day in Seattle dawned cold and gray but not rainy. The forecast for today’s game is cloudy with the temperate about 38 degrees.
My game advance story details the Seahawks’ weird week and Russell Wilson’s weird season. But this is plain and simple: wins today over the Cardinals and New Year’s Day at San Francisco and Seattle is the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. That could happen this weekend if Seattle wins and both the Falcons (at Carolina today) and Lions (at Dallas on Monday) lose.
Colleague Dave Boling writes how the eliminated, fallen Cardinals would love to rise up and beat Seattle at CenturyLink Field for the second consecutive season.
Merry Christmas to all of you.
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ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-8-1) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-4-1)
Saturday 1:25 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: KCPQ Channel 13 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: Even at 17 wins each with one tie. The tie was in the last meeting, Oct. 23 in the desert. The Seahawks’ defense played 95 snaps over five full quarters, including the full overtime period, and allowed just two field goals in the 6-6 draw. It’s the most snaps by a defense in a game in NFL history without allowing a touchdown. The Cardinals have gone 2-5 since then, allowing 30, 30, 38, 26 and 48 points in those losses. Arizona won the last meeting in Seattle, Nov. 15, 2015, 39-32, when Carson Palmer lit up Seattle with 363 yards and three touchdowns passing.
Line: Seahawks by 8½.
Roll on Rawls: Is Thomas Rawls back yet? The broken ankle last December then cracked fibula this September set him back into late November. Since what seemed a breakout – 106 yards and two touchdowns against Carolina Dec. 4 – Rawls has had 67 yards on 12 carries at Green Bay and just 34 yards on 21 runs last week against Los Angeles. Seattle didn’t have Rawls in October when its offense went splat in the tie at Arizona. He had just two carries in his only career game against the Cardinals, in November 2015. Marshawn Lynch, back from injury that night, played 48 snaps to Rawls’ nine last season when Arizona won at CenturyLink Field 39-32. Now, the lead job is all Rawls’. It’s time for him to balance this uneven offense for the playoffs.
Settle on a line -- finally: The 15th game is no time for a division champion trying to become the conference’s No. 2 seed to still be finding a starting right tackle. Garry Gilliam gets his job back after starting the first 11 games there – then exiting after three snaps at Tampa Bay to watch Bradley Sowell start the next three games. Line coach Tom Cable wants to see Gilliam attacking defensive linemen with more physicality, instead of reacting to them and relying on his ample athleticism. If No. 79 in blue to going forward, beyond the line of scrimmage, especially on run plays, Cable is getting what he wants. And Seattle’s line may start to settle again. If not? Then the Seahawks and their 20th-ranked rushing offense have an issue entering the playoffs.
Blitz Wagner. Often: After letting Aaron Rodgers have more time to throw than any two-time league MVP will ever get two weeks ago in Green Bay, the Seahawks blitzed Rams rookie Jared Goff more last week – most noticeably and effectively with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner swarming over the center. That’s what Wagner was doing so disruptively earlier this season. That included in the overtime tie at Arizona Oct. 23. Wagner had one of the 10 hits Seattle got on relatively stationary Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, and the Seahawks sacked him four times while playing the most snaps ever in an NFL game (95) without allowing a touchdown. Expect a return to the blitz-Wagner formula. Not just to disrupt Palmer’s quick-passing game to Larry Fitzgerald, the league’s receptions leader with 98. Wagner needs to slam into Arizona’s do-it-all running back David Johnson. Johnson has over 1,100 yards with 13 TDs rushing, and has 73 catches, too. Seahawks LB K.J. Wright thinks Johnson is the NFL’s offensive MVP.
Here’s Wagner’s defensive coordinator discussing why the Pro Bowl LB is so good at blitzing:
The pick: Forget Richard Sherman’s outbursts. The real issues Seattle must fix in these last two games before the playoffs are the running game, the running game and the running game. The Seahawks and Rawls go right at an Arizona defense that allowed the Saints to ring up 48 points last week -- and has allowed at least 30 points in four of the seven games since these teams last met. Seahawks 20, Cardinals 14.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
25 Richard Sherman CB 6-3 195 sixth
Watching to see if he blows up on sidelines for 3rd time this year. Beware when SEA’s at the 1
16 Tyler Lockett WR/KR 5-10 182 second
If he’s as back as last wk’s 7 catches, 130 yds, 57-yd TD suggest, offense has a new weapon
79 Garry Gilliam RT 6-5 315 third
From starter for 11 games to inactive for 2 to starter again. Task: Be more physical on runs
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
31 David Johnson RB 6-1 224 second
Does it all: 1,138 yards, 13 TDs rushing. 73 catches, 800 yards, 4 TDs receiving.
11 Larry Fitzgerald WR 6-3 218 13th
About 71 years old yet rolling. Future in question, so Palmer will target early, often to prove point
36 D.J. Swearinger FS 5-10 208 fourth
Next man up after Tyrann Mathieu went on IR Fri. SEA’s Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett likely to test