Heading into the final weeks of a dead-end season, the Arizona Cardinals will have a powerful force working in their favor when they take on the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
The combined forces of anger and frustration can’t be discounted for a team that has plenty of talent to go along with it, even if they’re up to an 8-point underdog.
In what has become the best rivalry in the NFC West Division, the Cardinals currently have far more reasons to despise the Seahawks than Seattle has in return.
And sometimes in this league, the angriest team wins, no matter the odds.
The Seahawks at 9-4-1, have the division and a playoff berth locked up.
But winning out in the final two weeks is critical to their retaining the No. 2 seed in the NFC and getting the first week playoff bye and second-week home game.
The Seahawks are also looking to finish up their regular-season home campaign undefeated, which they have done in just three previous seasons: 2003, 2005 and 2012.
So, even though this has been a curiously erratic season, the Seahawks have taken care of their business at CenturyLink and are not likely to sleepwalk through this afternoon game on Christmas Eve.
But the Cardinals will view this game as an outlet to vent all their frustrations of a 5-8-1 season that fell so vastly short of the expectations of a team coming off an NFC championship game appearance last season.
The Cardinals know they can win in Seattle, having done so twice in the past three visits, and they played toe-to-toe against the Hawks in a savage defensive battle in Arizona in late October that ended in a 6-6 tie after 75 minutes of defensive excellence and offensive slapstick.
“They’re our rival,” said Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell this week. “We know they’re going to try to get some momentum going into the playoffs. I expect a heavyweight bout. It should be a fight.”
That last “fight” took a bigger toll on the Cardinals, who have gone 2-5 since that tie, while the Seahawks went 5-3.
By form, it should be a game dominated by defenses, as they played five quarters in October and neither team scored a touchdown. The Cardinals are ranked No. 4 in the NFL in total defense, and the Seahawks No. 2 in scoring defense. Both teams would love to end their seasons at No. 1.
Amid the weak offensive and errant special teams plays in the previous game between them, Arizona’s David Johnson stood as a rare threat, rushing for 113 yards and catching eight passes.
Johnson is closing in on a remarkably versatile season (1,138 rushing yards, with 73 catches for 800 yards), and veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald is nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career in which he’s often tormented the Seahawks (averaging almost 75 receiving yards per game in 24 matchups).
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Fitzgerald said this week. “Why not go up there and just lay it on the line and make it miserable for them on Christmas?”
If either team comes out underestimating the relevance of this game, they are going to have some trouble.
“From the time you step on that field, you’ve got to understand what it’s going to be,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to be a physical altercation for 60 minutes, and if you don’t have that kind of mentality, it’s going to be a long day. But we have a lot of pride in this locker room; we understand the kind of opponent we’re playing against.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer this week cited CenturyLink Field as his favorite place to play, citing the stadium atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the fans.
“We still have a lot to play for when you consider the amount of pride on the line,” Palmer said.
A win over the division champ won’t salvage a disappointing season for the Cardinals, but it will bring at least some short-term satisfaction.
When Larry Fitzgerald, a real pro who is widely considered a man of estimable integrity and character, goes into the game with the goal of making it “miserable for the Seahawks on Christmas,” you know the Cardinals are driven by revenge.