Game day has dawned sunny and cool here in the desert -- though Seattle's kickers were saying this week their hunch is the retractable roof will be closed at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale for tonight's showdown of Seahawks and Cardinals essentially for the NFC West title.
Philadelphia's face-plant at Washington yesterday means the Seahawks will clinch a playoff berth today with a either a win or a Dallas win at home over Indianapolis. In the bigger picture, the potential for Seattle (10-4) to earn the top seed in the NFC in next month's postseason, the Seahawks would like Detroit to win at Chicago and Green Bay to win at Tampa Bay. If those two things happen and the Seahawks win here in Arizona, a Seahawks win next week versus St. Louis and a winner in the Lions-Packers game would mean Seattle gets the top seed -- no matter what Dallas does today against the Colts and next week at Washington.
Loads of Seahawks fans on my plane here late last night down from Seattle -- about 1/2 the seats were filled folks with Seahawks gear. They howled when the flight attendant, upon landing in Phoenix, threw in a "Go Cardinals."
Here is my game preview story, focusing on the remarkable durability of quarterback Russell Wilson, who will again be on the spot tonight.
And here is my preview box, with keys to the game, key players and the pick:
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-4) at ARIZONA CARDINALS (11-3)
5:30 p.m., University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
TV: Channel 5 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
The series: The Cardinals lead 16-15 in the series that began in Seattle’s expansion year of 1976, when the Cards were in St. Louis. The Seahawks have won three of the last four meetings, including their 19-3 win at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 23. This season’s Super Bowl will be in Glendale. The last time the Seahawks played a game at the site of that season’s Super Bowl was 12 months ago when they blew out the New York Giants in the Meadowlands six weeks before they did the same to the Broncos there.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Another Wilson Night at the Improv: The Cardinals are going to blitz, blitz and then blitz more. Run blitzes. Swarms at Russell Wilson. Barring a remarkable rise out of Seattle’s porous offensive line that allowed seven sacks and 11 QB hits the last time these teams played and will have starters Max Unger and Russell Okung missing tonight, Wilson is going to have to escape and improvise as well or better than he has all season.
See how they (don’t) run: The Cardinals have used a spark from practice-squad promotion Kerwynn Williams to revive their dormant running game in the last two games. They are likely to try to establish the run early so third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley doesn’t have to attempt to win the game solo. The sooner the Seahawks take away his running and place this test solely on a quarterback with zero touchdowns, seven interceptions and a career completion rate of 51.4 percent, the better Seattle’s chances of winning the game, the division and the NFC’s top seed.
Stay with No. 11: The Seahawks didn’t have to face wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald last month; he was out injured. The jobs of cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Byron MaxwelI and Tharold Simon aren’t going to be as easy tonight. Fitzgerald remains the man the Cardinals call upon when they need a play, and Seattle has known that for years. If Lindley succeeds, it’s likely going to be because he found Fitzgerald often.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
3 Russell Wilson QB 5-11 206 third
It’s often going to be all on him to escape the pressure, burn the Cardinals for blitzing
54 Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 third
If he stops Utah State college teammate/ RB Kerwynn Williams, SEA will have AZ where it wants.
78 Alvin Bailey T 6-3 320 second
Arizona is going to target the fill-in for Okung with blitzes all game.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
33 Kerwynn Williams RB 5-8 198 first
All 175 career rush yards have come in last 2 games. Needs to get going to help Lindley.
14 Ryan Lindley QB 6-3 232 third
Will this be the game of his life – or another game like the rest of the third-stringer’s life?
93 Calais Campbell DE 6-8 300 seventh
Seven sacks. AZ likely to move him around to attack fill-in LT Bailey, rookie RT Britt
The pick: Seahawks, 17-13. The offensive line remains a big concern. But I just can’t see the defending Super Bowl champs and the recently lights-out defense blowing a chance for all their regular-season goals to a third-string QB.