In the midst of the Cardinals’ 3-5 second-half slide during which they lost control of the No.1 playoff seed in the NFC and control of the NFC West, the thought of hosting a playoff game to open the postseason seemed almost unthinkable.
Well, think again.
If the Cardinals (11-5) beat the Seahawks (6-10) on Sunday at State Farm Stadium and the Rams (12-4) lose at home to the 49ers (9-7), the Cardinals will win the division crown, clinch the No.4 playoff seed and host a Wild Card game in Glendale next weekend.
If the Cardinals lose, they hit the road for the opening round of the postseason. It won’t matter what happens in the Rams-49ers game. Still, imagine how difficult it must be for the Cardinals to be rooting for the 49ers, one of their arch enemies.
“I’m rooting for them very hard,” Cardinals nose tackle Corey Peters said. “Obviously, winning the division was one of our goals before the season. We kind of had some missteps there and got ourselves out of the driver’s seat. But that’s still one of our goals and we’d love to win the division. We’re just focused on beating Seattle and hopefully the 49ers will get it done.”
After losing three straight games to the Rams, Lions and Colts, it appeared as if the Cardinals were done. They managed to back themselves into the playoffs thanks to the Vikings losing to the Rams two weeks ago, but Arizona wasn’t playing anything like the team that began the season 7-0 and 10-2.
Sunday’s 25-22 win at the Cowboys, however, reignited the energy and confidence around the Cardinals. Closing out the regular season with a win over the Seahawks will only help add to that. It’s not as if this team didn’t need some positive reinforcement.
“I feel like it’s a battle, mentally,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. “The energy this last Sunday compared to the energy against the Lions, it’s not that we weren’t prepared or ready to go. It’s something I wish I knew the answer to. It was completely two different teams out there. I wish I knew the answer to that.
“I definitely feel like as a team it’s about getting hot at the right time. You wouldn’t want to go into the playoffs feeling how we felt three weeks ago, that’s for sure. I think that was a good head start for us to win this past Sunday and then hopefully get the job done this weekend. That way we can feel even better going into the playoffs.”
The Cardinals can’t do anything about the outcome of the Rams-49ers game. They’ll have to focus their full attention on the Seahawks and watch the scoreboard for updates as to whether the 49ers help them out or not. But beating Seattle would be a bit of an historic event for these Cardinals in and of itself.
They defeated the Seahawks 23-13 back in Week 11 but have never swept Seattle since Russell Wilson became a starting quarterback 10 seasons ago.
How much would it mean if Arizona can beat Seattle twice in the same season for the first time in a decade?
“It would mean a lot,” safety Jalen Thompson said. “And just for the fact I feel like a lot of the teams in the NFC think that we’re kind of like the low-level team I guess you could say. A lot of teams I feel like don’t have a lot of respect for us. If we win out and beat them in every single game this year, I think that will be real big for us just respect-wise.”
There have been all sorts of rumors floating about that this could be Wilson’s final game with the Seahawks and that he will attempt to seek a trade elsewhere for the 2022 season and beyond. Wilson, however, put those rumors to rest when he last met with Seattle reporters.
“For me, what I’m really super passionate about, obviously my goal is to win more Super Bowls and my plan is to win them here,” he said. “It is that simple, so there is nothing else really other than that.”
Wilson and the Seahawks haven’t had it easy this season. He missed four games following surgery to repair an injured finger and his team will finish with its worst record during his entire tenure, regardless of what happens on Sunday.
“Whenever we play Seattle we’re always prepared for a fight,” Peters said. “Obviously, we have so much respect for the guys that they have in their locker room and the competitors that we know they are just from the battles over the years. … I fully expect them to come in here and try to get a win, so we have to be prepared and treat it just like any other game. We want to be going into the playoffs on a high note, so a win is just as important to us.”
The Seahawks are coming off a 51-29 rout over the Lions in which Wilson passed for four touchdowns — three of them to wide receiver DK Metcalf — and running back Rashaad Penny rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
“They were running the ball really well, Russell was looking like how he usually looks, the receivers and all those guys were looking pretty good,” Thompson said when asked what he saw on film form the Seahawks. “We’re going to have a pretty tough matchup this week, but I feel if we do our jobs, we should be A-OK.”
The Cardinals will be without running back Chase Edmonds (toe/ribs), wide receiver Rondale Moore (ankle), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (knee) and cornerbacks Robert Alford (pectoral strain) and Marco Wilson. They are getting back running back James Conner (heel) and defensive lineman J.J. Watt, but Conner could be limited, and Watt won’t play this week.
Still, the Cardinals have a chance to win their first division title since 2015 and they’d much rather open the playoffs at home than on the road, even though they are 8-1 away from State Farm Stadium this season.
“It’s great to be at home and obviously, having that home field advantage,” guard Justin Pugh said. “I look back on that Colts game and that was a playoff atmosphere and it was rocking at State Farm. Obviously, we want to have that kind of atmosphere again. The goal is to go out and win and hopefully, San Fran can help us out a little bit and we’ll get a home game.”
After losing five of eight, including three in a row, who would have thought that was a possibility?
“I think it kind of goes back to what I said earlier in the year to the guys, especially after the loss to Detroit,” receiver Christian Kirk said. “It’s that we still have everything we want in front of us. Yeah, we went through a tough stretch there, losing some games we shouldn’t have lost and we beat ourselves and just simply weren’t going out there and executing the game we know we can execute.
“But we still knew due to the prior wins we accomplished earlier in the year, we set ourselves up to be in the position we want to be and it’s just up to us to take advantage of those opportunities. Sunday was a big win for us, and we still have everything in front of us.”
For the Cardinals, running back Chase Edmonds (toe/ribs), wide receiver Rondale Moore (ankle), cornerback Marco Wilson (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (knee) are out. Running back James Conner (heel), defensive end Zach Allen (ankle), linebacker Dennis Gardeck (thumb) and tight end Demetrius Harris (shoulder) are questionable.
For the Seahawks, linebacker Bobby Wagner (knee), cornerback John Reid (concussion) and tackle Brandon Shell (shoulder/illness) are out. Tight end Will Dissly (heel), linebacker Carlos Dunlap II (ankle) and guard Gabe Jackson (knee/illness) are questionable.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: NFC West title still up for grabs for Cardinals