For once, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s insistence that each week is a “championship week” is a literal assessment.
The 12-2 Seahawks will host the resurgent Arizona Cardinals (9-5) on Sunday at CenturyLink Field with an opportunity to lock up what they want.
If Seattle wins, it will clinch the NFC West title, the conference’s top seed, a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
It would be Seattle’s first division championship since 2010.
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“We’re going to go for it this week,” Carroll said. “This is a championship matchup, and we’re going to do everything we can to go get it done.”
To do so, the Seahawks will have to beat a much-improved Cardinals team.
In Week 7, Seattle went to Arizona and handled the Cardinals. A third-quarter surge put the Seahawks ahead by 18, dismantling questions of the outcome as Seattle went on to win, 34-22.
The Cardinals have since won six of seven to position themselves for a shot at a wild-card spot.
“They’re just cleaner, sharper, better at everything,” Carroll said. “They really have come together. You can see how efficient (quarterback Carson Palmer’s) been in the last couple of months.”
They are better than anyone in the NFL at stopping the run. Arizona is No. 1 in rushing yards allowed. The Seahawks are second in rushing yards gained. Carroll said the Cardinals’ run-stopping prowess would not stop him from remaining a run-first coach.
An Arizona injury might change the number of deep shots the Seahawks take Sunday. The Cardinals will be without both starting safeties.
Rookie star Tyrann Mathieu is out for the year after tearing the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee against St. Louis on Dec. 8.
Last Sunday against Tennessee, Rashad Johnson sprained his ankle. Rookie Tony Jefferson will step in at safety for Johnson, who is listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. The Cardinals like to blitz often, so Jefferson will be a crucial player Sunday.
The Cardinals also bring to town starting left and right tackles — Bradley Sowell and Eric Winston — who have never been to CenturyLink Field before. Winston has eight false starts this season.
In addition, Palmer is hurting. Palmer, when healthy, is about as mobile as a fire hydrant. He has an ankle sprain that will further reduce his mobility.
However, Palmer has been precise during Arizona’s run. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the past six games.
“He’s playing like you could always imagine him to play,” said Carroll, who coached Palmer at USC.
The Seahawks are dealing with an injury issue, too. Starting right guard J.R. Sweezy is out after suffering a concussion against the New York Giants last Sunday. Sweezy was the only offensive lineman to start every game this year for the Seahawks.
Carroll did not specify Sweezy’s replacement when he met with the media Friday. Paul McQuistan is a candidate, though the Seahawks have been rotating James Carpenter and McQuistan at left guard. There are questions if Carpenter can play a whole game.
Backup center and guard Lemuel Jeanpierre is another option, as is rookie Alvin Bailey.
Whomever the Seahawks plug in, along with the rest of the line, will face one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts.
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is a three-time Pro Bowl player. Behemoth defensive end Calais Campbell (6-foot-8, 300 pounds) has six sacks, a forced fumble and eight stuffs.
For all his might, Dockett was part of a defining and embarrassing moment in the season’s first meeting with Seattle. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch knocked Dockett’s helmet off and his 290-pound body to the ground on the way to the end zone.
That’s just the message Seattle wants to send again Sunday when a title is attainable.